Emotional eating

Do you have an inner cookie-monster? Are you in need of some emotional comfort?

If feeding your emotions is a rare occurrence, it may not be an issue that you need to tackle. However if emotional eating occurs frequently, it can be a serious problem for your emotional health and weight loss.

This topic looks at:

  • Whether emotional eating is a problem for you
  • Practical ways to deal with emotional eating

Are you an emotional eater?

Have you ever come home from a stressful day and eat junk food even though you weren’t hungry? That’s a good example of emotional eating. Whenever you turn to food to soothe yourself when you feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied, it’s called emotional eating. Emotional eating is okay if it happens occasionally, but if you regularly eat when stressed, bored, or upset, then emotional eating will make it much harder to lose weight.

Short-term solutions

If you are an emotional eater, you will have learned to follow this behavior pattern:

  • Feel particular emotion –> Find something to eat

The key to changing this behavior pattern is to find an alternative action to distract yourself with which replaces the “eating part” of the pattern. Then you need to put it into practice and make that alternative action a habit.

Here are some common non-eating responses to various emotional eating triggers:

When I feel… Instead of eating I will…
Angry Listen to some loud music
Lonely Have a long, hot soak in the bath
Worried Go for a walk
Disappointed Drink a cup of comforting tea
Frustrated Take three deep breaths, imagine a relaxing scene

How can you respond in better ways to emotions that make you want to eat? Think about this question and then create an “action list” in your Blog. In your action list, state the actions you’ll take to replace eating. Or do the same on a piece of paper and put the list somewhere visible, like the fridge or pantry door. It might help to phrase your action list as personal promises to yourself. For example:

“When I feel angry, I won’t eat, instead I will listen to some loud music.”

Long-term solutions

Emotional eating often involves feeling unworthy, dissatisfied, or unfulfilled in certain areas of your life, or being too stressed. When this is the case you eat to fill the absence and to distract yourself from your discontent.

That’s what makes emotional eating such a challenge to deal with – you can’t just say no to the food, you also need to work through the underlying issues that are causing the emotional eating in the first place. However, taking certain positive actions can help you break the habit of turning to food. For example:

Turn to others
When you’re feeling lonely, bored, upset, or any emotion that usually makes you turn to food, call or visit your friends or family and talk to them instead. Having someone listen to what’s on your mind and to talk things through with can be very helpful.
Feel your emotions
When eating is your response to an emotion or feeling, the way you really feel gets buried. Learn to feel and express your emotions instead of turning to food. Consider keeping a “feelings journal” and when you feel in danger of having an emotional-eating episode, write down what’s really going on in your mind. Identify the situations and feelings that make you want to eat. For example, “When my boss criticizes my work, I feel…”. If you have a lot of trouble identifying how you feel or why you feel the way you do, seeing a counselor or therapist can help.
Keep a food record
You might find it helpful to keep a food record or look in your Food and Exercise Diary to see how many calories you consume in an emotional eating episode. Being aware of how much an emotional-eating response “costs” you, calorie-wise, can motivate an alternative action next time the feeling or situation occurs. Resolve to do better next time you feel that way.
Process any emotional-eating episodes
When you do have an emotional-eating episode it’s important not to beat yourself up about it. Instead, focus on how you could handle a similar situation better next time. Give yourself some time and space after an emotional eating episode so you have a calmer perspective. Wait an hour or so then write down how you felt before the emotional-eating episode and how you feel now. If you have an action list, look at it and write down something from the list that you could do next time you face an emotional-eating episode.
Find purpose and meaning
Make sure your life is filled with things that mean more to you than food. Maintain good friendships, take an art or music course, volunteer for a neighborhood project, campaign for a cause you believe in – anything that gives you a feeling of purpose and connects you to the rest of the world.
Fake it ’til you make it
There’s surprising power in pretending. Get out of the “I have no control” mode and into “I do have control of my life and food” mode. Even if you don’t believe it at first, your behavior has a way of catching up with your self-talk.

Beating emotional eating is a true struggle. It’s hard to find the strength to resist the urge to eat when it’s strongest, and to undo a habit that seems to provide momentary comfort. But with time and effort you can get control of your emotional eating, and make positive steps toward finding fulfillment and emotional satisfaction.

A lifestyle personal trainer will help you to work on your emotional habit.

In my program, I work with the best. Edwige Gilbert is specialized on emotional eating.

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