After a tiring and frustrating day at work or even after a great day, you find yourself in front of the fridge or pantry reaching unconsciously for the things you know you shouldn’t eat, but you just can’t help it.
Instead, you might say to yourself:
- Oh I’ve had such a long exhausting day, I deserve it
- Just one won’t hurt, as I did go to the gym
- I will work harder at the gym tomorrow to make up for it
- I’ve been so good all week, a little bit won’t hurt
- I’ll get back on track on Monday
- I always feel better after eating chocolate
- What’s the point, I’m already fat anyway so who cares.
Can you relate to any of these, or do you say something else to yourself?
You might find that you feel so stressed, you don’t even realise that you’re ‘munching away’ unconsciously, eating something and working at the same time. It’s not until you’ve finished the whole packet of biscuits, chips or savoury food that you’ve realised what you just did.
We often eat and drink because of our emotions, such as when we are feeling sad, depressed, lonely, guilty, angry, frustrated, stressed, anxious or nervous as well as when we’re happy and celebrate certain events. Food has become our emotional saviour; it can bring so much pleasure in the moment, as well as masking the pain and negative emotion we’re feeling.
However, this is not the purpose of food, as the pleasure, energy lift or distraction it provides is only short lived. I believe we need to begin uncovering the REAL reason behind these feelings in order to effectively stop the cycles of emotional eating, binge eating or disordered eating episodes and patterns.
Do you feel guilty?
I truly believe that feelings of guilt (emotional stress) destroy our health more than any ‘bad food’.
Feeling guilty, ‘beating yourself up’ about it, putting yourself down, convincing yourself you’re not worthy or good enough and then overeating/binge eating to try and mask your pain/feelings is a cycle that puts tremendous emotional stress on your body.
As a result, your digestive system begins to shut down and cortisol (stress hormone) increases, leading to hormonal havoc within your body, resulting in cascading health issues over time.
7 strategies you can implement to help disrupt these often vicious and harmful emotional eating cycles
1. Talk to someone, consult a counsellor or psychologist
A professional will help you uncover the emotional baggage or pain behind your emotional eating episodes. It will change your life. If you’re not ready to talk to a professional, talk to someone you love. Chat with your parents, partner or your best friend so you have a way to release your feelings, you may find that it’s just the distance you need to prevent it.
2. Keep a Journal
Write how you are feeling before or after the emotional eating episode and reflect on it. Just releasing the emotions beforehand can help prevent or at least delay an episode. Writing gets you in touch with how you are feeling and which feelings cause your emotional eating episodes.
3. Breathe deeply
Practise big, deep belly breathing as this will help to ground you and bring you back to the present moment. It will help to focus your mind, enabling you to ‘look inside’ to identify what it is you really need.
4. Give up dieting, restricting and deprivation
This is critical, especially if it is a trigger for binge eating/drinking or disordered eating patterns. Give yourself permission to have food and enjoy it. When you truly are hungry, ask yourself these questions:
- What food can I eat that will nourish my body?
- Am I craving a certain food, and will that nourish me or not?
This takes practice, but you’ll be amazed at how wise your body truly is.
5. Eat enough protein and quality fats
Be sure you eat enough protein and quality fat with every meal. This will keep your blood sugar levels stable, help prevent overeating as you will be satisfied for longer and it will also reduce carbohydrate or sugar cravings later that day.
6. Eat Mindfully
Pay attention to what you’re eating and thank your food for nourishing your body. Don’t multi-task when you eat such as talking or texting on your phone, watching TV or working on your computer.
Instead stop and focus on the taste, smell and texture of the food you’re eating and enjoy it.
7. Practise SELF-LOVE
The relationship you have with your body is one of the biggest factors in emotional eating. Negativity, shame and hatred won’t inspire you to make long-lasting healthier choices and changes.
I hear many times from my clients that they will ‘stop hating their body’ and start to appreciate it after they reach their ideal weight. However you have to first appreciate your body to break your emotional eating cycle.
I highly recommend the book ‘Mastering Your Mean Girl’ by Melissa Ambrossini if you need more guidance in this area.
Overcoming emotional eating isn’t as easy as simply deciding to do it. However by making the choice to change, becoming aware of what you’re thinking moment to moment and being conscious of what you’re eating and drinking, you’ll be making progress in starting to break your emotional eating cycles.
You might slip back into your old eating habits, however remind yourself of the reason WHY you wanted to change in the first place.
You have to commit to dealing with your feelings and not using food to numb, comfort or distract you from them. Over time, as you develop new habits, you’ll find that you no longer automatically go to the fridge or pantry, reaching for food when you’re upset, angry or lonely.
If you have dealt with emotional eating issues, disordered eating patterns or binge eating, what helped you the most to overcome this? Please share below your tips to help others in the same position you once were.
Happy changing habits.