Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Health & Weight Loss
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Weight Loss & Health
Overcoming Emotional Eating & Yo Yo Dieting with Emotional Intelligence
Eating behaviors are driven by more than just physical hunger and taste preferences. Even if you don’t identify as an ‘emotional eater,’ emotions and stress impact what and how everyone eats to some degree. Personally, I was amazed to learn about the importance of emotional intelligence – not only for overcoming emotional eating habits, but also for our food choices, weight loss, and our overall health.
What we’re feeling in any given moment can influence what we choose to eat, how much we eat, how frequently we eat, and so on. Yet, all too often, we miss this connection. We focus on dieting and restriction, thinking the problem is ‘willpower.’ And then, we get caught in the same cycles of yo yo dieting, or bingeing and restricting, wondering why we can’t stick to the diet or lose weight.
This is because we’re ignoring the root of the problem: managing our stress and emotions. And this is the missing link when it comes to our efforts to lose weight and live healthier.
The importance of emotional intelligence can’t be overstated. And, loads of recent research has revealed just how essential emotional intelligence is when it comes to our food choices and weight loss. Learn all about it in today’s video!
Overcoming Emotional Eating through Inner Wisdom
As I delved into “being,” and started to (unknowingly) tap into my inner wisdom, my relationship with food started to shift. First, I noticed I wasn’t turning to food to satisfy an emotional hunger as I often had in the past.
My binge eating and yo yo dieting pendulums started to settle more and swing less. Gradually, the weight started to come off—without much intention on my part regarding nutrition. Then, there came a point where it didn’t seem to matter if I ate donuts or broccoli, my weight just came down to a “healthy” place and stayed there. Interestingly, I even noticed less bloating the day after I’d eat pizza or donuts or an excess of processed foods—something I’d always dread before.
But, it didn’t make sense to me or line up with what I’d been taught through my nutrition education: “calories in, calories out” is how it’s supposed to be, right? The quality and quantity of the food we eat matters most, right?
Yes, all of this is true—but it’s outer wisdom alone. Now, what I’ve realized is fostering our inner wisdom is essential to achieve health and happiness. As my inner wisdom grew stronger, and my relationship with my body became more peaceful and easier, at first I thought, “is this some sort of spiritual thing?”
Well, maybe. But, in school, I was finally able to get to the science behind what was happening. I realized that I had been building up my emotional intelligence.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI), also known as emotional competency or emotional ability (EA), is the ability to perceive, facilitate, understand, and manage emotions and feelings. Unlike our IQ, which is believed to be relatively fixed (we get what we’re born with), emotional intelligence is not fixed. So, this means we can actively develop and increase our emotional abilities with practice.
If you’re wondering: Why would I want to increase my emotional intelligence? Well, numerous studies have found that people with more emotional intelligence are healthier (and happier). Higher emotional intelligence can lead to healthier food choices, and even help us to maintain a healthy weight.
So, how can you improve your emotional intelligence?
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence
Now, looking back at the beginning of my personal journey years ago, I didn’t even know what a feeling was. I knew feelings were a “thing,” but I didn’t really let myself feel them. I certainly couldn’t name them, and I didn’t understand their function or how to deal with them.
So, I often turned to food to cope or distract, and I cycled between bingeing and restricting. I thought willpower or new diets were the solution—but these never addressed the root of my problem. Of course, I also had no clue about the importance of emotional intelligence (or even what it even was).
When I was first presented with a “feelings list” like this, my mind was blown. The words I’d usually turned to like “okay,” “good,” and “fine,” were nowhere to be found… But, identifying and naming our emotions accurately are fundamental emotional intelligence skills, and we can only improve through practice.
If you’d like to work on developing your own abilities in this area, download the feelings list PDF and refer to it regularly. Use it to help identify emotions as they arise, or I recommend making this a daily practice: set time aside each day to tune in and identify what you’re feeling in the moment.
As I began to immerse myself into these practices of “being”—such as journaling, naming my feelings, introspective and reflective work, yoga, meditation, and therapy—I became aware of my emotions. I knew which emotions were relevant when. I started to see how my emotions developed and progressed. And, I learned to regulate them. This is emotional intelligence.
How Emotional Intelligence Develops
Emotional intelligence is something that we learn and develop—it isn’t an ability we’re just born with. In one of their research studies on emotional ability (EA), Blair Kidwell and colleagues (2015) explain:
“Each person has a unique level of EA that is learned in childhood and develops throughout his or her life. If EA is not learned in childhood, people may lack an understanding of emotions and be unable to effectively use them later in life. For example, if a parent tends to avoid expressing feelings but then exhibits intense unhealthy emotions such as hostility, a child may misunderstand when and how emotions should be expressed. To counteract this deficiency, EA training develops the emotional skills that are essential for effective decision making.”
As children, we learn these skills by watching how others deal with their emotions—like our parents and adult role models. But, most of us didn’t receive explicit lessons about emotional ability skills from our parents, nor was it taught in school. So, unless we had great early models, or we’ve invested time and effort in developing it on our own, our emotional intelligence may be lacking. (Mine definitely was!)
I believe this is why so many of us are perpetually stressed, often unsatisfied, and struggling with health and weight. Thankfully, we can all continue developing emotional intelligence skills throughout our lives.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
For Overcoming Emotional Eating, for Weight Loss & for Overall Health
Now, if a few years ago someone suggested that I needed to learn to manage my emotions to be healthy and lose weight, I might have felt a bit defensive or averse. Certainly, I didn’t understand these concepts at all, and I didn’t put them all together until I’d built up some of those abilities. So, I understand if this doesn’t resonate, or if you feel a tinge of irritation reading this.
But, if that’s the case, perhaps that is the exact reason to bring a sense of curiosity to this idea, and to explore it within yourself as you go through the course. Perhaps any feelings in your body as you’re reading this can be a sign—a breadcrumb—that you’re close to something that might help you find some peace and ease.
All of us have been steeped in a diet culture that focuses on what we eat and how much we eat and how to eat less. And, there’s hardly ever any discussion of our emotions or our stress—it’s all calories and carbs and meal plans. But, the reality is, our emotions and our stress impact our health, including what and how much we eat. And, trying to eat less when we’re dealing with an insatiable emotional hunger creates a self-defeating cycle.
Instead, the solution lies in addressing the root of the problem. This is the importance of emotional intelligence for our health—and it’s backed by plenty of research. Studies now link higher emotional intelligence with healthier food choices, healthier lifestyle habits, and even lower BMI. In today’s video, I talk about some of these studies, and I’ve included this downloadable PDF with summaries of the research for you.
Emotional Intelligence Quizzes & Tools
Or, if you’re wanting to get a sense of your own emotional ability skills currently, here are a few quizzes to gauge your own Emotional Intelligence! Keep in mind, these are not deep dives, but they can be a great way to reflect on and notice where your personal areas of growth may lie.
Today’s Journal Prompt:
Today, take 5 minutes to tune in to whatever emotion(s) you are feeling in the moment. Bring your full attention to the emotion and get curious about it. Rather than thinking about it, just observe the emotion and pay attention to the physical sensation of it.
First, find a comfortable, quiet place where you can sit with no distractions. Then, close your eyes, breathe, and observe your inner experience like a curious scientist collecting data:
- Where is the feeling? In what parts of the body?
- What size is the feeling? What are its edges?
- Does the feeling have a color? And does the color change at all over time?
- Does the feeling have a shape? And does the shape change at all over time?
- Is the feeling heavy or light? Hard or soft? Rough or smooth? What would it feel like if you could touch it with your hands?
- What is the feeling? Does it have a name? (Give it a descriptive name, like Belly Tightness, or Purple Tingle, or Elephant on my Chest—whatever fits your experience.)
After spending 5 minutes observing the feeling, slowly open your eyes, bring your attention back to the room, and take a few minutes to journal about the experience. Reference your feelings list if that’s helpful! Continue to do this exercise day after day, getting to know your different emotions. And, the more your practice, the more attuned you’ll become to your inner experience!