Emotional eating is when we consume large quantities of food – usually ‘comfort’ or junk foods – in response to feelings instead of actual hunger.
It’s a tricky thing and it plagues so many of us. But why and how do we deal with it? These are very complex questions and something I’m going to explore a little deeper in this blog post because like so many of you, I too have struggled with emotional eating (and emotional binge eating). But its something I’ve worked on for years and developed a better understanding of so as to be able to effectively deal and manage it when the urge arises.
If your like me and are very health conscious, with many goals in mind you wish to achieve, emotional eating can be a big inhibitor to these. hen you work so hard at the gym everyday, eat your wholefood meal prepped meals each day and drink your 2L of water, you should be seeing results! But its those emotional eating binges that are holding you back. Don’t worry though, I’m here to tell you they can be controlled. And this nasty habit can be broken!
First, its important to understand why we emotional eat…
Why do we emotional eat?
Well there is obviously going to be different triggers for each of us, but it all comes back to our upbringing and what we associate food with.
Do you ever remember as a child, when you were sad, upset or hurt, your parents would give you something like a lollypop, cookie, chocolate bar or ice-cream to make you feel better? Its this practice that from a young age leads us to associate food with feelings of happiness. If we were feeling sad and were given some sort of food at the time, we would feel better in that moment, and because we were a child and our troubles usually weren’t more complex than a kicked toe or scrap on the leg, the problem was easily numbed by the food and all was good in our world again.
So basically, we emotional eat because we have learnt to associate food with comfort and happiness in times of hardship and strong emotions. If we feel some unpleasant emotion, such as heart ache, stress, pain etc., we instantly turn to food as a way to numb it because from a young age, that’s what we have been taught!
Its a natural response; most of the time totally out of our conscious thinking, so we are not even aware we are doing it until its been done. But for a lot of people, it is a coping mechanism that is trigger by distressing events; it could be the loss of a loved one, a break up or stress at work. Everyone’s trigger will be slightly different.
So now we know what emotional eating is and why we do it, which are both pivotal to know to be able to manage it. So we can now move on to managing it.
4 Steps to Manage Emotional Eating
1.Know your triggers. The first step (and arguably the most important) is to understand exactly WHY you emotional eat. What are your trigger/s? Look back at all the instances you recognise you have emotional eaten, and see if you can identify a pattern. Was it when something you were under pressure at work – your trigger could be stress. Was it because you didn’t meet a deadline or received some bad feedback – your trigger could be failure. Or was it when you had a fight with a loved one or after a break up – your trigger could be anger or sadness. I’ve worked out my personal triggers are failure, anger and sadness.
The reason its so important we understand our trigger/s is so that we can become aware of when they are present in an attempt to stop or avoid the emotional eating altogether. Because as I mentioned above, emotional eating often takes place in the unconscious mind, so we don’t even realise we are doing it until its too late. But if we know when are going to be faced with a trigger before or when it happens, we can better equip ourselves to deal with it rather than turn to food.
2. Acknowledge & accept. When a trigger presents, acknowledge it and openly accept it. Don’t fight the emotions your feeling, just accept them for what they are and allow yourself to feel them. This will help bring your mind back into the present moment, rather than unconsciously turning to food immediately. The other day, I was having one of those days where EVERYTHING just seemed to be going wrong, in work and in life. But I stopped, and just allowed myself to be sad and accept I was having a bad day. There was no use stressing over what I couldn’t change and there was definitely no benefit in eating the bad day away.
3. Talk. Don’t let your emotions feaster! Because then they will surface in the form of emotional eating and binging. But rather, talk about them with someone you trust – a family member, a friend or a therapist! Don’t be afraid to share how your feeling; no one is going to judge you and after all “a problem shared is a problem halved”! Talking about the issue or emotion allows us to deal with it so it is no longer a problem.
4. Ask yourself; am I really hungry? When you feel an emotional binge coming on, stop and ask yourself, ‘am I really hungry or am I just eating for emotional reasons?’. Emotional hunger is different to true hunger – you feel it above the chest, mainly in the mouth; it will come on suddenly and intensely (with the emotion) and often cannot be satisfied with food because it does not stem from the stomach. This is probably the hardest step of them all, but in the moment you need to consider; am I really hungry for this Snickers bar or Chocolate Chip Cookie, or is this just my way of dealing with the unpleasant emotion. If you truly in that moment believe the cookie or chocolate bar will benefit you, go for it! Sometimes we do just need a little pick-me-up to get us through the day every once in a while. Notice I say, “every once in a while” – now and then it is okay to do this, but its when it becomes a weekly or even daily occurrence its no longer healthy; physically or mentally. The more you practice this step, the easier it will be and the more successful you will be in managing your emotional eating.
I hope these tips help you manage your emotional eating ❤️ as with anything, it is a journey and it takes time to master. It’s taken me years of hard work and persistence, and I still fail at it some days! Emotional eating is a habit and we all know it takes time to break a habit, and even longer to rebuild new ones! The important thing is to be kind and gentle with yourself along the way and never give up. You will get there, and it will get easier. xxx
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