Do you find yourself reaching for the bag of chips when feeling stressed? Seeking solace in chocolate to mend a broken heart? Mindlessly grazing while bored working at your desk? Catch yourself devouring the breadbasket after a diet?
Whether it’s for stress, sorrow, boredom, or deprivation, reaching for food for reasons beyond physical hunger or nutrition is completely normal. We all eat emotionally and there is nothing wrong with it. We have associated food with love and comfort ever since we were infants – it’s locked in our DNA. I always tell clients it’s not a bad thing – it’s available, it’s easy, and it totally makes sense. There are definitely worse things you can be doing!
There are endless reasons why we emotionally eat. If we are lacking pleasure in our life, we can look to food to fulfill this. If we are experiencing ongoing stress without the use of adequate coping mechanisms, we can look to food for comfort. If we are trying to control our food intake or following a diet we hate, we can binge on whatever we’ve been craving. Emotional eating becomes a concern, however, when it becomes a regular pattern of behavior, or in other words, a habit.
HABITUAL EMOTIONAL EATING
Because food is so easily available and can quickly help diminish unwanted emotions, emotional eating can become a habit. Overtime this habit can lead to some troubling physical and emotional consequences like digestive issues, unwanted weight gain, poor body image, and negative self-talk.
When we are emotionally eating, we tend to eat mindlessly, quickly, and make poor food choices. Fast and distracted eating can become a habit in itself that often leads to overeating, digestive upset, and reduced pleasure and nourishment with food.
The hallmark of emotional eating is the guilt and beating ourselves up that follows. Attacking ourselves for our eating habits can lead to stress with food even when we’re not eating emotionally.
On a deeper level this habit can take a real toll on our relationship with food by weakening our physical hunger signals, stressing the body with repeated fast and distracted eating, and the inevitable guilt and self-attack that comes afterwards.
Habitual emotional eating can lead to a disconnection with food, the eating experience, and the body.
And although emotional eating is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about – at some point, we recognize that it no longer serves us. So, the question is: What do you do when you realize it’s no longer working for you?
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS: Using food to deal with your feelings can certainly bring on some short-term relief, but it’s not a long-term solution for regulating emotions because it’s just a band-aid. Negative feelings need something more – they are like unwanted guests in our home who won’t just leave after you feed them one meal. They need to be greeted, tended to, felt, and literally digested before they can go on their way. So instead of trying to dull your feelings, actually try and let yourself feel them. Allow yourself to breathe into the emotions, feel them in your body completely, and let them move through you.
PAUSE, OBSERVE, ASK: The best thing you can do is slow down, pause, and observe how you’re feeling before you reach for food. From here, tune into what your body is really yearning for. Ask yourself: What would truly nourish me in this moment? Take a few minutes to think about this and from here, make the best choice for you in the moment. They key is to start to notice and build awareness around what it is that you are truly needing.
USE OTHER COPING STRATEGIES: It’s important to find some additional mood regulators that work for you so that you don’t feel like food is your only option. Make a list of some potential strategies you think may work for you and keep it handy to remind yourself that you have other options to choose from. Some popular ones are deep breaths, mantras, going for a walk, chatting with a friend, resting, exercise, time in nature, yoga, and meditation. Try one of these and notice how you feel afterwards.
GET TO THE ROOT: The best cure is to address the root cause of what is triggering the emotional eating. It’s probably not a quick fix and may take some time and digging to identify what the actual cause is. You may want to journal or meditate on this to find some answers. Once you’ve discovered the cause, start to make some small changes toward addressing the issue.
For example, if it’s a stressful situation, work on developing some stress coping mechanisms that work for you. If it’s stemming from a limiting belief about yourself or life, work on releasing and reframing it. If it’s boredom, identify some small steps you can take to find more connection. If it’s the diet cycle you’re stuck in, work towards eating balanced meals you enjoy that your body is craving.
Regardless of what your trigger may be, it is important to focus on making changes in the areas that you have control over, including your perspective.
LEARN MINDFUL EATING OR INTUITIVE EATING: While working on taking the emotions out of eating, the best gift you can give yourself is to develop an empowered mindful relationship with food and your body so that:
You don’t feel powerless to certain foods or situations therefore feel more in control around food
You start tuning into what your body really needs and honor it in the moment
You’re able to regulate your emotions and make yourself feel better without using food
There is no quick fix to stop emotional eating overnight but if you can start making small changes overtime these will add up. Most importantly, let go of any judgment or guilt around your emotional eating when do choose to use food. And always remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can ☺.
If you’re struggling with emotional eating and looking for support, book a free discovery call with me here.