It’s 11:00PM. You know you should get some sleep, but suddenly you’re shoveling chocolate ice cream into your mouth. Your brain has been hijacked! Before you know it, you’ve eaten two bowls. At first it feels good. The chocolate-y goodness is soothing and comforts your soul. You attempt to rationalize what just happened. “I had a rough day, I deserve it.” “Calories don’t count on Monday nights.” “I’ll just start eating healthy tomorrow.”
But as you know, that satisfaction is short lived. Within minutes the guilt and shame rush in and you feel powerless. “How could I let this happen again? I’m such a failure. I will never defeat my cravings.” But you can and you will.
Emotional eating is something a lot of people deal with, and it can rear its ugly head in a few different ways. For some people, it leads to binge eating and never feeling satisfied. Most of the time, emotionally motivated eating causes you to crave specific foods, and these are usually high in fat and sugar. Although less common, allowing emotions to control eating habits can also lead to starvation, particularly for people dealing with depression.
However emotional eating is currently affecting you, here are three tips you can start using now to fight back.
- Before you eat, STOP and REFLECT on why you are eating.
If you are reaching for your 15th Hershey kiss because you are physically hungry then that’s a different conversation, but more often than not this type of eating has nothing to do with physical hunger. So why are you craving food in that moment if you aren’t hungry? Typically in these situations, the behavior comes from emotional hunger. It’s a void that we attempt to fill with food. The first step to defeating it is recognizing it.
Let’s say you find yourself walking to the kitchen to grab another snack even though you’ve just eaten dinner. You stop and reflect, and you realize the real trigger is boredom. Maybe you live alone and find yourself lonely and bored at night. Food may temporarily alleviate the pain. Try calling a friend or family member when you start to walk back into the kitchen, or maybe look into a new hobby that could enhance your social life and bring you joy.
Stress is another common trigger for emotional eating, and exploring new stress relieving exercises such as meditation or exercise may help. Stress is a common trigger for me, and I expend that nervous energy by dancing to my favorite song (seriously, and my dogs love it.) At the risk of sounding too psychoanalytical, it’s also common to use food to feel love when it’s lacking in your life. Many people have happy, loving memories surrounding food. Maybe your parents took you out for ice cream when you brought home a good report card, or maybe homemade pasta reminds you of time spent with loved ones. If you can recognize the void, you can start working toward bringing more love in your life – which often starts with self-love.
- Change the story you have created about yourself.
Food tells a story, and so does your relationship with food. But you have complete control over that story. Don’t self-sabotage yourself with limiting beliefs and labels. You aren’t a carboholic, a sugar addict or a gluten-monger unless you believe in these labels. You may be exhibiting some unhealthy behaviors, but that isn’t who you are. Change your story. Instead of telling yourself you can’t control your cravings, start telling yourself that you make healthy choices and that you’re on the road to a better lifestyle. Your mind creates your reality and you’re the author of your story. Use that to your advantage.
Whenever I’m going down an unhealthy path and I need to change my story, I like to call myself Amanda version 2.0. I immediately feel like I have a new identity and I can start over fresh! (I may be closer to Amanda version 45.0 at this point.)
- Express your emotions.
Research studies have shown that people who suppress their emotions eat more during emotional experiences than those who do not. Eating can temporarily shut down unpleasant emotions such as anger, fear, shame, sadness and resentment, but it leaves you feeling worse in the end.
Find a way to express these emotions. If you’re angry, hit a punching bag. If you’re sad, let yourself cry. Whatever the emotion is, ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL IT. Sadness is uncomfortable, but it’s just a feeling and everyone has to feel it at some point. It can’t kill you. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re angry, be angry. These are human experiences and they don’t need to be shut down. Take a moment to reflect on the emotions you’re feeling when you resort to unhealthy eating habits. It may help to keep a food journal to identify these emotions.
*Painful and difficult feelings subside much quicker when you don’t keep them suppressed, but it’s important to note that there is a difference between sadness and clinical depression. If you suspect that you are clinically depressed, it’s best to work closely with a medical professional to help you feel better.
Lastly, remember to be patient with yourself. You may not conquer all your emotional eating overnight, but we are striving for progress not perfection. The more you practice these methods, the more you’ll progress. Before you know it, you will be in complete control of your eating, and that will show up in the way you feel and the way you look!