Do you find yourself mindlessly inhaling potato chips? Do you nervously devour the entire bread basket at restaurants before your first course even comes to the table? Does your diet consist mostly of comfort foods like pasta and potatoes? Do you find yourself wandering toward the fridge after an upsetting phone call or email? Does a stressful day at work make you want to break out the nachos?
You may very well be an emotional eater, but fear not, you are not alone! The good news is you can curb your emotional eating – you have the power to overcome your struggles with food and weight.
The first step is understanding why and when you turn to stress eating. Everyone does it from time to time, but if you are someone who handles all your difficult emotions by eating – whether you are bored, angry, sad, jealous, or nervous – then you are clearly stuck in a destructive cycle that is not healthy for your mind or your body. Emotional and stress eating is a form of self-medication. While some people turn to alcohol and drugs, others turn to food, especially comfort foods like carbs which trick our bodies into feeling warm and fuzzy and safe. You may be eating to suppress whatever emotions you are feeling, but notice that once you’ve devoured that entire bowl of macaroni and cheese or that big bowl of buttery popcorn, your emotions are still there waiting for you. You usually end up feeling even worse than before you took your first bite. And now your body is going to wear the extra weight from that binge. It’s a lose-lose situation and the resulting shame and feelings of loss of self-control put you in an even worse emotional place than before.
So let’s rewind and think about what you can do before you take that first bite! Make it a habit to grab your journal every time you want to reach for food and answer these questions: Am I really hungry? Am I depressed or anxious? Why do I want this food right now? And really answer yourself honestly? What just happened prior to your craving this food? Are you mad or frustrated or stressed out or exhausted? Is there something else you can do to resolve these emotions rather than numb them with junk food? Perhaps you would feel better if you went for a walk outside or took a warm bath or called a friend. Maybe chewing on something healthy and crunchy like celery would help you keep your mouth busy and help you release those emotions.
One of the causes of your stress eating may also be a result of childhood habits. How was food treated in your household growing up? Were you rewarded with food for good behavior? Was food taken away from you as punishment if you did something bad? Was your family struggling to put food on the table and you now see lots of food as a sign of success? Did your family encourage you to “clean your plate” no matter how full you were? All of these habits are emotional eating habits formed very early in our childhood, but that does not mean they are habits we cannot break. If you are aware of why you eat and when you eat, it will be a lot easier for you to make a point to eat when you actually need to eat and you will be able to control your mindless emotional eating.
You may also have unresolved suppressed emotions from a traumatic or stressful experience that you are protecting yourself with through the comfort of food and emotional eating. Physical or sexual abuse, a difficult relationship or lack of one, divorce, the death of a loved one, or as is becoming more and more common in today’s struggling economy, the loss of a home or job, are all situations that you may be battling and trying to eat your way past.
If you know you are going through a rough patch and your emotions are strong, try not to store them in your body as they will do more harm than good if they are bottled up inside you. Let your truth out and give yourself permission to release these emotions. One of the best ways to do so is to write in a journal everyday. Take a few minutes every evening at the end of your day and write down what is bothering you, what is on your mind, what happened that day…be 100% honest with yourself and don’t sugar-coat or try to be eloquent in your writing. Don’t be harsh on yourself for what you are writing – these are your feelings and they are 100% legit. If you can let yourself be honest with your emotions on paper, you will make fewer trips to the fridge!
If weight has long been a stubborn issue for you, come to one of my in-person workshops and let’s get to the bottom of it together! To sign up for an upcoming workshop near you, please visit my Events page at: /events-workshops//