I am an emotional eater. For years, whenever I felt sad, lonely, or anxious (which was very often), I would reach for some chocolate biscuits, a packet of crisps, or a Mars bar. They were my crutch, a way to distract me and ignore what I was feeling inside. For a while, I’d feel much better. But those negative feelings would always come back.
Comfort food wasn’t working. It just made things worse, and was harming my health too. While I’ve been never fat or very overweight, emotional eating caused me to gorge on too much junk food and chomp on too few fruits and vegs, which isn’t good for you. I knew I had to change. It wasn’t easy, and, every now and then, I have a relapse and eat a sweet treat when I am feeling down, but for the most part, I managed to get my emotional eating under control. Here’s how:
1. Identify your triggers
The first step in overcoming emotional eating is to figure out what triggers it. Are you turning to food to numb feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or shame like I did? Do you eat more when you’re stressed out? Or maybe you indulge in some sweet or salty treats to reward yourself when you’ve accomplished a goal? Or you often find yourself, maybe because of work or an active social life, in situations where food abounds? Or do you eat when you’re bored, just to have something to do? Or is there another reason?
Whenever you feel the urge to eat too much or reach for your favourite comfort food, stop a moment and figure out what’s causing it. To better identify the triggers, keep an emotional eating journal. Write down the mood you’re in when you eat, what you ate, at what time of the day, on what occasion, how you felt while eating, and what you felt afterwards. After a while, you will see a pattern emerge. Once you’ve found the cause, you’ll finally be able to fix it.
2. Experience your feelings – even the bad ones
Tackling your feelings head on, especially when they are negative, is downright scary! That’s why many of us turn to food, so that we can numb the pain rather than experience it. But that doesn’t really help, does it? Our feelings are a window into our soul. Fear, anxiety, loneliness, and other bad feelings help us to understand what is wrong in our life, what we are frustrated and stress about, what we dream about and makes us happy. By ignoring them, you’re just prolonging your unhappiness.
Instead, whenever you feel the urge to emotional eat, try to experience the feeling that’s causing it. Take a deep breath and, remember: although it may feel like your feelings will overwhelm you if you let them flow, they subside relatively quickly when you let them run their course and don’t obsess about or ignore them. It won’t be pleasant, but by staying mindful and experiencing what you’re feeling, you’ll realise that you can tolerate those negative emotions. And then, you’ll be able to fix the issues that are triggering your bad eating habits.
3. Find healthy ways to cope
Learning to manage your emotions takes time, especially if you’re used, before you even realize it, to reach for a slice of cake or a box of cookies whenever you feel bad about something. Breaking the habit is hard and, one of the best ways to do it, is to substitute foods high in fat and/or sugar with a healthier alternative. I’m not just talking of substituting cake with a healthier snack like an apple or yogurt. Whenever you feel the urge to emotional eat, do something else that makes you feel good both in the short and long terms, like playing with a pet, listening to your favourite songs (as long as they’re positive ones), exercising, taking a bath, reading a good book, or talking to a friend.
4. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
A lot of people are able to lose weight only when everything is going well in their lives. At the first sign of stress or problem, they once again head to the refrigerator. Problem is, life is full of surprises, and a lot of them aren’t nice at all! To keep your weight down and overcome emotional eating, you need to learn how to deal with the curveballs that life throws at you. And that’s a lot easier to do when you’re strong, healthy, and relaxed. That’s why it is important to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that will keep in good physical and emotional shape:
– Exercise daily: even going for a short walk with your dog helps. Exercising keeps you fit, releases feel-good endorphins, and reduces stress.
- Take a few minutes a day to relax: I know it sounds selfish to take some time for yourself every day, especially if you’re juggling a job, kids, a husband, and a social life. But you won’t be able to take care of your loved ones and do your job well if you’ve always burnt out and exhausted. Find the time to take at least 20-30 minutes each day to unwind. Meditate, take a long bath, read, or do anything else that relaxes you.
– Get your beauty sleep: did you know there is a link between sleep and overeating? When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, and less leptin, the one that tells the brain when you are full. So, the less you sleep, the more food your body craves. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night.
– Socialize: Create a positive environment around you that supports health and wellbeing. Surround yourself with positive thoughts and spend time with positive people. They will help you see the positive side of things, put them in perspective, and allow you to relax. They will also be there for you whenever you need help or just someone to talk to.
I hope these tips will help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Are you an emotional eater? Do you have any more tips on how to overcome emotional eating?