Emotional Eating – How to Overcome It
Emotional eating is often characterized as a behavior performed by lonely housewives or singletons in search of a source of comfort or companionship from their pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But emotional eating can happen when people are feeling happy, stressed, bored, angry or any other kind of emotion too.
Emotional eaters are just people who have lost their sense of awareness and understanding about the sensations they’re experiencing. Trapped in a trigger-habit-reward loop that they can’t get out of, emotional eaters start by experiencing a feeling that causes some level of discomfort, which triggers them to reach for those Double Stuff Oreos or any other source of deliciousness. Why food? Well because those foods offer a convenient and immediate sense of gratification which in turn provides an escape from the discomfort emotional eaters are actually feeling.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is a coping mechanism for the stress and distractions in your life. People find ways to cope with all sorts of feelings by creating all kinds of terrible habits and disorders. Some do it by acting out, harming themselves, drinking or doing drugs, some throw themselves into work, some just come home and kick their dogs, but for so many of us, the common theme is opening up the fridge or pantry in an effort to drown our sorrows. Like I mentioned before, food is a convenient & readily accessible source of comfort that can provide immediate gratification, so it’s not surprising that it’s so commonly abused. It’s escapism in it’s most socially acceptable form.
A quick note should be made that some people emotionally eat in times of happiness as well. Think about it, you go to a birthday party, you have cake, you got a raise, you go out to dinner to celebrate, you had a great day…let’s toast!
Whether the feeling you’re having is a “good” or “bad” sensation, the point is that if you’re eating food in excess because of an emotion you’re experiencing, then it’s not a healthy behavior or relationship. There is an opportunity to move on and leave this in the rear view mirror.
I once had a client ask me, “but Jason, what should I do when I’m bored?” For real, this came out of his mouth. I don’t remember the exact answer, but it was something like, “don’t eat, get a hobby!” It’s sort of like picking up our phones every time we stop the car at a red light, no one text you, no one called, but you can’t seem to sit with yourself for one minute without distracting yourself from that moment in time. If you stuff gummy bears down your throat every time there’s an uncomfortable pause in life you’re going to find yourself in significantly more discomfort when you’re too obese to make it up the stairs and have to take a cocktail of medications every morning.
So you know it’s not good for you to eat your feelings, but what are some practical solutions to overcoming emotional eating?
1. Use the 10 minute Rule
If you’re “hungry” give it 10 minutes. Don’t just set Alexa for 10 minutes and eat when the timer goes off, really think about your feelings for a full 10 minutes. Get out your journal and get to the root of why you want to demolish that family size bag of popcorn. Are you actually hungry? If you are, then ask yourself whether you could eat some grilled chicken & veggies instead. If that doesn’t appeal then you’re probably not actually hungry! Maybe it’s just a fleeting craving, or maybe you’re just watching the latest episode of “The Bachelor” and that’s when you always eat popcorn!?
If after 10 minutes you find yourself still truly hungry, then eat something. More often than not you’ll find the source of your “hunger” is deeply connected to a completely different feeling.
We recommend our OYE Journal to help you dive deeper and get an understanding of why you’re feeling this way.
2. Plan your day
So here’s the deal, life is full of distractions but only if you allow it to be. Think about it, distractions are usually external sources of noise or stress. Like when you’re at work and your co-workers stop by your desk, or you’re getting work done at home and your phone is constantly ringing. You don’t have to answer that phone, but you do because of whatever internal pressure you place on yourself.
How do you deal with all of that? You plan your day.
Food is no different, if you don’t plan your day, someone or in this case some food will for you.
If your day is planned and you get that hankering for a nice slice of Vermont extra sharp cheddar…(just me…?) and you look down in your My Fitness Pal app and see that you didn’t plan for that, well then, we have quite the conundrum. Should you eat this delicious cheese and not hit your numbers or realize, hey, my day is planned and I didn’t account for that?
Really it comes down to traction versus distraction. Look at those words, they have the same root “action.” But it’s clear one is leading us in the right direction and one is leading us in the wrong direction. If we can look at the desire to eat emotionally as a distraction from our goal and sticking to our numbers as maintaining traction towards our desired health and body, it makes the decision to eat that much easier to curb.
Just like setting your phone so that you don’t get notifications when it’s set to snooze mode, you can also set yourself up for success with the food you have available in your house. If you know you struggle with not eating the family size bag of popcorn, why not buy individual packs and keep them on the top shelf of the pantry. If you always get donuts right after the gym because you’re “hungry” and they’re on your home, start taking a protein shake with you to the gym. Plan your day but don’t forget to take extra measures to ensure you stay on course and maintain that traction towards your goals.
3. Get Help!
The big picture is preventing that feeling of powerlessness or the “what the hell effect?” We’ve all been there too many times. We are on track for days, weeks, even months, and then we have a bad night, we caved, we gave in and what started as one serving of Cinnamon Toast Crunch quickly became four and then it becomes “what the hell” I’ve already messed up, might as well keep going. As if we are powerless in this situation. We are not. You are not your emotions. You’re driving the car and your emotions are just along for the ride, so don’t let them grab a hold of the steering wheel. You have the ability to steer yourself back on course. You have the power to control what goes in your mouth next.
So if all else fails, regain control as quickly as possible because the truth is, one bad decision or snack won’t derail you, but allowing that to become two and then a day, a weekend, a week, that’s when we can lose progress, and spiral out of control.
In those times of emotional eating, remember you have a support system here with me, with Roz, our coaching staff and the entire Own Your Eating family. You are not alone! Reach out, we got your back and are here to help.