3 Strategies to Stop Emotional EatingFeb 18, 2021
You might be here because have an unhealthy relationship with food and want to stop emotional eating. What you need to know first, you’re not alone.
Emotional eating occurs more often than you might think. If you struggle with it, you might believe that something is wrong with you. That you lack the willpower to resist your cravings.
Emotional eating is something you consciously or unconsciously do and you’re not alone!
Especially now during the pandemic, emotional eating is more present that it has ever been.
I used to struggle with emotional eating myself. When I was upset, stressed, or lonely, I craved chocolate and cookies. Knowing it would give me some sort of release, I often overate only to feel guilty a short moment after.
Even though I knew I didn’t properly help, I still binged on them comfort food. It took quite an effort to get it under control!
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is a way of consuming food to help overcome and ease negative emotions, feelings, or pain. Most often the ones that cause it are emotions such as stress, sadness, boredom, loneliness, guilt, or even shame.
When they become overwhelming, especially when triggered by a major life event, we’re quickly to opt for food as a means to numb that overwhelm of feelings.
Emotional eating can be a vicious cycle and it can be a struggle to escape it. It’s easy to fall into it because it’s true, emotional eating is a quick fix and it does help make you feel better.
But here’s the thing, it only boosts your mood for a short amount of time, and soon after it will be followed by shame and guilt.
You might end up punishing and talking bad about yourself because you’ve failed yet again. On top of that, the feelings you temporarily eased are likely to return.
Shame and guilt are not the solution to the issue, they’re more likely to worsen it.
The real solution lies in nourishing your body, mind, and soul from a place of love and self-acceptance. Emotional eating isn’t all bad and you should not feel ashamed of it.
It’s not a sign of a lack of will power. It’s not a weakness. It’s a sign from your body that something is wrong. It’s your body telling you that you need to find new ways to nurture yourself.
The more you opt for food to cope with your emotions, the more it becomes a habit that is hardwired in your brain.
The following sections provide you with helpful tips on how to stop emotional eating during challenging times.
3 Strategies to Stop Emotional Eating
Recognize Your Triggers
If you want to stop emotional eating, you need to recognize your personal triggers. You need to identify what triggers you.
A food journal can help you get to the ground of why you’re eating and allows you to track when and where you eat.
It’s simple, I recommend that during at least 3 days of a week, including one weekend day, you write down everything you eat.
Alongside the list of what you ate, take notes on your emotions. Note how you felt emotionally and physically.
This practice also helps you identify how often you eat as a result of hunger and how often it is due to other reasons.
When you track your eating habits alongside your emotions, you’ll start to see the patterns in your eating habits.
Maybe you always end up eating a bag of cookies after a stressful and busy day. Maybe you tend to eat chips when you’re feeling upset.
Research in 2014 has shown that positive emotions make us more likely to opt for healthy food. Whereas negative emotions make us crave comfort foods that are usually high in fat and sugar.
There is a strong connection between our emotions and what kinds of food we crave in certain moments.
Opting for food in times of overwhelm has nothing to do with a lack of willpower. It’s your brain’s natural response as it looks for the fastest and easiest way for comfort.
Becoming aware of your triggers is the first step to help you stop emotional eating.
Choose Alternatives to help you cope
As you’ve learned by now, food can help you feel better in the moment, but it doesn’t solve the root issue, the real problem.
It’s ok to opt for food from time to time, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in helping you process your emotions. In my 1:1 coaching program, I help my clients come up with their personal self-care toolbox.
Think about it, a proper toolbox is full of tools that help you fix your house for example. There are tools for different situations and you wouldn’t use one single tool, like duck tape, to fix it all.
I think it’s the best way to come up with other ways to deal with your emotions and always have them at hand. When building your self-care toolbox, write it out on a piece of paper, or keep a list on your phone.
Some ideas include:
- taking a walk in nature when you’re stressed
- calling a friend when you’re lonely
- listening to happy music when you’re sad
- practicing mindfulness
There are many ways to deal with your emotions other than food. Keep your list of tools close to you. So that the next time you start to crave foods in moments of discomfort, you have the possibility to change your coping behavior.
Especially mindfulness in the form of mediation and breathing exercises have worked wonders for me.
A study conducted in 2014 confirms that. It concluded that mindfulness meditation helps in decreasing emotional eating and binge eating.
Find Healthy Substitutes to Your Comfort Foods
As I said, emotional eating is not all bad and sometimes it’s ok to opt for food as a means to make you feel better.
Especially at the beginning of your healing journey, it is likely that you fall back into those eating patterns. Emotional eating might’ve become a habit that is already hardwired into your subconsciousness.
Consider keeping the foods you normally turn to during those tough moments out of your house. If it’s not there, it’s pretty difficult to reach for them when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Quitting from one moment to the next might work for some, but it’s definitely not something for everyone.
On top of that, it’s important not to restrict yourself completely. Otherwise, it will be harder to get out of that restricting and binging cycle you’re currently in.
What I recommend is that you keep healthier alternatives at hand. Maybe you can replace that bag of chips with some home-made sweet potato wedges, or the candy with some berries.
I know, it’s not the same, but healthy nutritious food not only helps you stay in shape. It’s about so much more.
Research has shown that certain types of food help you cope with your anxiety and stress. Whereas others, usually the highly processed ones or those high in sugar, intensify anxiety and stress.
For example, foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, nuts, and even dark chocolate (don’t forget the calorie density here ;)) are proven brain boosters. They have also been shown to reduce anxiety.
Having healthier alternatives at hand helps your brain to still enjoy the feeling of snacking without having to deal with the negative consequences that processed, high-sugar food leads to.
If you want to achieve sustainable changes, you have to take small steps. Always remember, progress is better than perfection.
Reach out for help if you need it
If you find yourself struggling when trying to implement these strategies and need some extra accountability, don’t be ashamed of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up.
Honor yourself for having had the courage to try but be brave enough to ask for support if you need it.
In my 1:1 coaching program, I guide my clients on their self-healing journey. I teach them strategies, I help them identify their triggers, teach them how to eat more intuitively, help them with body confidence, and so much more!
This call gives us the chance to learn more about each other and your story to see if we’d be a good fit. Even if you end up deciding to not work with me, you’d still get some action steps and a lot of value from that call.
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