HOW TO OVERCOME EMOTIONAL EATING
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HERE?
**Before we get started, I want to state that this information came from my own personal research, therapy and experience dealing with emotional eating. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, a health specialist in any way, shape or form and if you are struggling with emotional eating, I suggest reaching out for additional support.
Sitting in bed with a tub of chocolate ice cream, going into the pantry to grab a late night snack, coming back from work feeling like absolute sh*t and eating sugary foods you were trying to avoid…
Does this sound familiar?
Just because you have a bad day and go straight to food doesn’t necessarily make you an “emotional eater.” Sometimes we have bad days or get bored and just indulge in what makes us feel good in the moment.
Well, let me start with this: A “normal” or “healthy” eater is bound to have a day or two where they go to food when they are sad or bored, ok? It’s totally common from time to time.
What happens when that bad day of emotional eating becomes bad weeks, months and even years?
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL EATING
Emotional eating is when you find yourself consuming large quantities of food ( typically junk or sugar foods ) in response to emotions rather than hunger.
It happens when you use food to cover up emotions ( positive or negative ), as well as uncomfortable situations. When you are using food to cope with these emotions, it is emotional eating.
Food is meant to nourish your body and keep you alive. Food is necessary for energy and our mental health. Food is fuel for our body. When we begin using it when we aren’t hungry, that can result in poor nutrition and feelings of guilt.
The most important thing to take away from emotional eating, is that it is temporary. It doesn’t make you feel better long term. It doesn’t address internal issues and often leaves you feeling shameful, guilty and frustrated.
Here’s How To Identify Emotional Eating:
( credit: helpguide.org )
Ask yourself the following:
Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
Do you eat to feel better ( to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc. )?
Do you reward yourself with food?
Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
If you’ve ever been sad, anxious, angry, depressed and gone directly to food to fill that void, then this is for you.
WHAT CAUSES EMOTIONAL EATING
Emotional eating can be caused by not facing an internal emotional issue or an uncomfortable situation. What I find interesting is that through all of my research, emotional eating often has nothing to do with the food itself. It’s about an internal issue that you may not be facing.
MY JOURNEY WITH EMOTIONAL EATING
YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO RELATE
First of all, I just want to point out that these gifs are meant to lighten the mood. I take this topic very seriously as I have struggled with this issue myself. For any of you who might be wondering… like “WTF SYDNEY! This isn’t funny.” No, it’s not.
I’ve been there. When I get super anxious, I tend to grab a bite to eat even when I’m not hungry. It’s dangerous because we end up not only consuming excess calories that we don’t need, but we aren’t healing our deeper rooted issue. We are looking for food to temporarily take away some of that pain we might be feeling, right?
When I was growing up, I suffered from severe anxiety and an eating disorder. There were times when I starved myself, spit out food after I chewed it and throughout all of that, I was an emotional eater.
It was almost like I was punishing myself subconsciously. Because in the moment, I thought that the food would make me feel better. It distracted me for a solid 10 minutes, but the actual issue that I was facing never disappeared.
That is why emotional eating is so dangerous. We are causing more harm to our bodies.
And for me personally, I would feel even worse after eating.
After a lot of hard work, some therapy and removal of toxicity in my life, I overcame emotional eating. One small step at a time.
HOW TO OVERCOME EMOTIONAL EATING
The first step to overcoming emotional eating is to recognize the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
Here are a few key ways to tell the difference:
Emotional hunger comes on instantly and feels like an urge. Whereas hunger, is gradual. The urge to eat isn’t as intense.
Emotional hunger craves specific foods such as sugar. Notice that when you are physically hungry, you crave anything. Have you ever noticed that when you are extremely hungry, anything sounds good? Even vegetables! Emotional hunger craves that sugary snack for an instant relief.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied after you’ve eaten. When you are physically hungry and you finish a meal, you usually feel full. Emotional hunger will keep wanting more even if you feel uncomfortably full.
The second step once you understand the difference between emotional vs. physical hunger is to understand your triggers.
The WHY behind your emotional eating. Once you can identify this, you can learn to shift your mindset and how you cope with that issue.
Some examples of triggers can be…
Boredom & feeling empty
When you are emotionally eating, you are looking to fill a void. Figure out what that void is that you are looking to fill!
The third step to overcoming emotional eating is to find other ways to cope with that void.
In order to stop emotional eating, you need to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle and triggers. You need to actually come up with solutions that you can begin to implement.
Here are a few examples:
If you are lonely, call someone that makes you laugh. Go through old photos that make you happy, plan a dinner with a friend, volunteer to help others or play with a pet!
If you are stressed, allow yourself to feel that emotion, journal about it, go on a run, get a stress ball, take a hot bath, light some candles, play some soothing music and take advantage of essential oils! Have you read my post on natural bath time rituals for relaxation? It might help!
If you are bored, try watching a comedy show, listen to a podcast, clean up around the house or pick up a hobby!
After you’ve taken each of these steps, learn to be mindful.
Mindful of your decisions and aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness is a practice that takes time to learn, but start implementing it into your daily life.
Before you make a decision, take 5 minutes to be mindful of what you are doing, what the potential consequences can be and think about any alternatives.
One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness when eating is to eat at a table without any distractions. Those distractions cause us to overeat and can result in the habit of emotional eating.
**Now, I am not a doctor, a health expert or nutritionist, but this is advice from my own personal therapy.
When you are mindfully eating…
You don’t have the TV on
You are not driving
You are not on your phone
You are not walking
YOU ARE sitting at a table, in a calm place where you can take things slower.
A few tips that I learned in therapy:
Identify how you are feeling before you begin your meal
Try eating with your non-dominant hand
Put down the utensils between bites
Take small bites
Try to stop eating before you FEEL full
When you’ve finished your food, take time to assess whether your BODY FEELS hungry before getting a second round.
Emotional eating stems from internal issues and feeling powerless to food. Being mindful, aware of the issue and finding alternatives is a great way to overcome emotional eating.
It takes practice. It takes time. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable because this will get you closer to overcoming emotional eating and tackling that internal issue!
EMBRACING POSITIVE SELF TALK
Be kinder to yourself throughout this process. Remember that how you treat yourself will impact how you feel. You have to be your own best friend. Self care is imperative to a happy life. We all need to be mindful of the way we choose to speak to ourselves during rough times and good times!
You are worth more than you could know, so learn to love yourself because you only have one life to live! Food is here to nourish our bodies. Trust yourself and listen to the signals your body sends you. Be mindful of when you are physically hungry vs. emotionally hungry.
You’ve got this!
If you are struggling with emotional eating and need additional help, please contact your health provider or a mental health specialist.