Have you ever reached for a tub of ice cream in tears? Or grabbed a bag of chips when you were bored with nothing to do?
Maybe you’ve turned to food to escape from thinking about something that makes you anxious or afraid.
If you have done any of these things, you have been an emotional eater.
Food is a natural source of pleasure and comfort. It’s normal for a person to turn to food every once in a while to help boost their mood.
Think about apple pie or chicken noodle soup. It’s called “comfort food” for a reason. When I think of these foods I feel warm, cozy, and well taken care of. Feeling this kind of comfort from food is universal and can fit into a healthy lifestyle.
However, it is not healthy to frequently turn to food to deal with your emotions.
Especially if it leads to an uncontrolled, over-consumption of unhealthy foods on a regular basis. You not only can gain weight, but you are avoiding your problems and not properly dealing with your emotions.
Here is how to fix emotional eating so you can have a healthier life.
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What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when a person turns to food as a way to cope with their emotions.
Someone can be aware or unaware of their emotional eating. To understand if you are emotionally eating, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I hungry?
- How do I feel?
- What do I need (physically or emotionally)?
By asking yourself these questions, you can quickly see if you are physically hungry or emotionally hungry.
People use food to cope with a wide range of emotions including sadness, anxiety, stress, fear, anger, boredom, or loneliness.
Food is used to cope with feelings because eating can bring a sense of comfort, excitement, or distraction. Sometimes emotional eating can be so intense it becomes a form of sedation or punishment.
Emotional eating is a problem when it becomes an emotional crutch or when you are no longer able to control your eating.
An example of problematic emotional eating is when you turn to junk food every time you feel sad. It’s when you use chips as a distraction and eat the entire bag because stopping means acknowledging or dealing with the issue you are avoiding. If you are lonely or bored often, it could be looking forward to eating tasty food as a main source of excitement.
This kind of relationship with food is not healthy. You have to find other ways to deal with your emotions besides food.
How to Fix Emotional Eating
1. Find Alternative Coping Methods
Whenever you feel yourself wanting to emotionally eat, stop and choose an alternative method to deal with your emotions. Having a few coping methods already in place makes it a lot easier to choose to not emotionally eat.
If you are experiencing feelings such as stress, sadness, anxiety, or anger, a relaxation coping method would be helpful to you. Here are some example relaxation methods:
- Breathing techniques
- Walk around the neighborhood
- Read a book
- Create art
- Adult coloring books
- Take a bubble bath
- Drink hot tea
- Listen to music
- Talk to a friend
- Cuddle with your significant other or pet
- Practice a hobby you enjoy
If you are experiencing feelings such as loneliness or boredom, you need coping mechanisms that involve socialization or doing something productive. Here are some examples:
- Play a sport/go to the gym
- Go for a walk
- Call or Skype a friend
- Chat on social media
- Join a Meet-up
- Play with your pet
- Complete household chores
- Run errands
- Read a book
- Listen to a podcast
- Learn something new
- Practice a skill
- Practice a hobby you enjoy
Notice watching TV or Netflix is not on these lists. It is a bad idea for this to be your coping mechanism for a couple of reasons.
First, it increases your screen time and therefore sitting time. Second, it is very easy to start eating mindlessly if you are watching a screen. The goal here is to avoid emotional eating in a healthy and productive way.
2. Tear Out the Root Cause of Your Negative Emotions
Coping methods will help with emotional eating, but they are only a Band-Aid solution. To permanently solve the problem, you have to dig deep and tear out the root cause of your negative emotions.
To do this, you may need to do some reflection to understand what is going on inside of you.
Methods to reflect and increase self-awareness include meditation, talking to others, counseling, and journaling.
If you are interested in journaling, I have created the 21 Day Food & Emotion Journal.
It will help you understand the connection between your emotions and what you are eating.
By the end of the 21-day reflection, you will be able to identify the root cause of your negative emotions.
Once you have identified the root cause of your negative emotions, you must do some problem solving and re-prioritizing.
If you are stressed, for example, you may have too much going on in your life. You need to re-prioritize your life by removing some stressors and adding some fun or relaxation time.
If you are experiencing sadness or depression, you need to figure out how you can work towards happiness. What makes you happy? How do you define happiness? If you are experiencing depression, is it time to see your doctor or a counselor?
To heal from emotions such as sadness, maybe you just need to let out your feelings by acknowledging them. Let yourself cry. Talk to a friend or family member. Write in your journal.
Everyone experiences negative emotions every now and then. But these emotions should not be controlling you to the point where you can not control what you eat.
It’s time to make some life changes. What steps do you need to take to improve your quality of life and well-being?
Want more help? Here are 5 top-rated books on emotional eating:
- Never Binge Again: Reprogram Yourself to Think Like a Permanently Thin Person by Glenn Livingston
- 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers
- Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating by Meryl Hershey Beck
- When Food Is Comfort: Nurture Yourself Mindfully, Rewire Your Brain, and End Emotional Eating by Julie M. Simon
- Eat Your Feelings: The Food Mood Girl’s Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating by Lindsey Smith
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