The current study explored the phenomenology of emotional eating, that is, the descriptive knowledge of what one perceives, senses, and knows in one's immediate awareness and experience during emotional eating. Eight individuals with emotional eating were interviewed twice using explicitation interviewing. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis, which resulted in nine themes describing the diachronic (or temporal) unfolding of emotional eating and several sub-themes that described various synchronic (or experiential) dimensions of this unfolding. The core findings of this study support the escape theory of emotional eating and recommend future directions to investigate the self-related shifts proposed by this theory. Namely, the findings show that individuals tend to use food to regulate their emotions by reducing the unpleasant experience of negative emotions and the associated unpleasant narrative processing or ruminations about stressors that caused the negative emotions. This then leads to an urge to eat associated with a desire for the sensory experience of eating. Eating then enables individuals to reduce thoughts about their stressors and bring themselves into the present moment through embodiment. Future quantitative research could investigate this mechanism of shifting from narrative to embodied processing to regulate emotions in emotional eating to develop treatment programs, such as mindfulness-based programs, that could encourage such a shift and emotion regulation without the use of food.
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- Emotional eating