Emotional eating is the tendency to eat in times of stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Emotional eating is a huge barrier to weight loss by adding many unnecessary calories to the diet and creating a psychological and physiological reliance on food for emotional coping.
So emotional eating could be you turning to inappropriate foods for stress relief it could be turning to food for comfort after an emotional day and it can also take the form of a full-on uncontrollable binge where you’ve totally lost perspective and control, where in that moment you don’t care ..you just eat and eat until you can’t eat anymore and then you feel sick and guilty after.
If you engage in Emotional eating You Are Not Alone.
It seems to be something that women are particularly prone to and that could be just because we’re emotional human beings whereas as men have a tendency to be able to compartmentalise their emotions better.
Here’s what you need to do.
When you are feeling vulnerable to emotional eating…you are looking through the cupboards and you are reaching for food you know you don’t need :
Put a name on what you are feeling. In other words identify the trigger. Is it Sadness? Stress? Tiredness? Boredom?
Put a name on it, identify it so that you can recognise it when it next makes an appearance. Next time your trigger presents, you will put up a big red stop sign in your head and you will be ready and armed with coping strategies to deal with it.
Ok so coping strategies. Here are some you can try:
An example of replacement behaviour could be to chew on free vegetable sticks with a yoghurt dip because the crunchy texture and sensation of keeping your mouth busy for a few minutes might be what you need to distract you long enough that the impulse to eat inappropriate foods goes away.
The thing about raw food like this is it doesn’t produce an insulin response or trigger happy hormones which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
Studies show that eating high-fat and/or high-sugar foods can affect activity in the parts of your brain that manage stress. When eating these foods your brain releases ‘happy chemicals’ like serotonin which makes you feel good and reduces stress. This reinforces your reliance on eating response to stress because you end up in a vicious cycle:
Stress ⇒ comfort eat ⇒ reduces stress and feel good = reward ⇒ stress…
this positive feedback loop reinforces your desire to comfort eat in subsequent stressful situations.
On an emotional level when indulging in typical comfort eating you are giving food a new power beyond just meeting your nutrition needs. Food becomes the coping strategy, making your desire for it intensify. You begin to believe that you need food to get through bad feelings which of course is not true.
Don’t do anything. Go and sit down in a quiet dark room, close your eyes and wait it out. This type of therapy is used to help overcome phobias. Patients are exposed to their phobias…until the phobia just goes away…it has run its course.
When you comfort eat during a negative emotion you are distracting yourself, which does not allow the feeling to run its course. The next time you have an overwhelming emotion,you could challenge yourself to just experience it, make no action to prevent it. You might notice how it eventually subsides.
In my experience, many women are initially too vulnerable and may not find waiting it out works quickly enough. I recommend:
Beyond these tips, set yourself up so negative feelings don’t cause more problems.
The key is to find ways to cope with negative feelings that do not cause more problems. Eating causes more problems, and so does drinking, sleeping too much, and getting lost in TV for hours at a time. Exercise and talking with a supportive friend are good examples of healthy coping. When considering a new coping strategy, ask yourself: “Will doing this make me feel better or worse right now?” and “Will doing this make me feel better or worse tomorrow?” If you can say “better” to both questions, it is probably a healthy coping strategy. There is no sense in feeling better in the moment if it costs you tomorrow.
Lastly, worse case scenario, you give in and end up emotionally eating. Ok it happens. No point in punishing yourself it won’t make you do better next time. The best thing to do is acknowledge that it happened, own it – don’t pretend it never happened – put it in your diary, identify it’s trigger, come up with an alternative behaviour.
Then move on. At the end of the day, it’s about progress not perfection. And you are not the sum of your binges you are the sum of what you do consistently.
Do you need help with overcoming emotional eating in your weight loss journey? You could be a candidate for my 8 Week Body Transform program which focuses on education, mindset coaching and personal accountability to make the seemingly impossible happen.
For personalised advice contact Laska via our contact form.