Emotional eating is incredibly common, but it’s also widely misunderstood. Do you ever find yourself eating candy or big bags of chips after a hard day at work, often without seeming to make a conscious decision to do this? Do your diet plans immediately fail whenever you have relationship problems, financial worries or self-doubts?
If you think that this picture sounds eerily familiar, you’re not alone. Emotional eating can be a source of shame and frustration, but there are ways to beat it. The trick is to learn more about your triggers and develop a pattern of mindful eating that replaces the old, self-destructive pattern of being an emotional eater. This guide could help you change for the better and learn to see food in a more positive light again.
When your body needs fuel, you experience physical hunger. You can sate this hunger with almost any food, while emotional hunger typically presents in the form of cravings. If you’re going to avoid emotional eating in the future, you first need to get a better sense of where your emotional hunger comes from in the first place.
The most common things that contribute to a pattern of emotional eating are:
There are specific steps you can take to maximize your chances of reducing emotional eating. The main goal is to develop a pattern of mindful eating instead. We’ll take you through the necessary steps to become a mindful eater. They’re simpler than you think!
If the above helps you realize you’re emotionally (rather than physically) hungry, ask yourself this follow-up: “What am I feeling?”
This will clue you into why you’re emotionally hungry, and also give you a chance to think of other ways to meet your need.
All of these questions create a bigger gap between feeling an urge to eat and actually eating. And in time, conscious decision-making about food should become the norm, not the exception.
Emotional eating always has specific triggers, and finding them is half the battle.
Stage two of your mindful eating plan is all about identifying the triggers and making them tangible.
You can use a notebook to start a “food journal”, or simply make notes on your phone or computer. Regardless of the format, the key thing you need to do is write down the time of day, add a description of how you feel and identify why you’re feeling it. If you have a craving for a specific type of food, note that down as well.
So, for example, you might note that you felt hungry at 3 pm and that you particularly wanted chips. Then, you might add that you’re feeling sad because you’re missing an ex-partner.
Over time, you’ll see patterns emerging in your food journal.
These patterns will help you draw connections between specific cravings and specific emotional needs. The process may also help you uncover the unfinished business that you can actively work to address. In the above example, trying to get back into the dating world might be how you nullify that craving or talking about the relationship in therapy might be what you need.
The next part of the mindful eating journey is all about making better choices. So, you’re now applying what you’ve learned through your self-reflection. If you go through the above steps and find that you’re truly physically hungry, you might be able to put off that physical hunger until a meal time, reducing your overall calorie intake and helping you stay in shape.
Alternatively, you might realize you’ve not eaten enough today and really need to cook something. These are both good ways to respond to genuine physical hunger, depending on your body’s needs.
Meanwhile, when you’re emotionally hungry, you won’t always be able to avoid eating through willpower alone. In these cases, your strategy becomes less about stopping yourself from eating and more about eating better things.
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Finding a substitute food can be a lifesaver in your battle against emotional eating.
A good trick is to think about the dominant flavor and go from there. So, if it’s chocolate you’re craving, what sweet but healthy thing can you eat? Fruit is the obvious choice. Meanwhile, you can replace salty potato chips with low-fat seasoned popcorn.
In some cases, what you eat will be close enough to your craved food that you feel better. Then, you can experiment with eating less of it.
Eventually, you may not experience the automatic craving at all. Effectively, you’ll have “trained” your body and mind out of relying on food in this way.
Although the substitute food strategy can be a powerful one, the best thing you could do is replace emotional eating with healthy behaviors. So, to go back to your food journal, it’s time to add a new dimension to your notes. Specifically, each time you note something down, challenge yourself to find another way to make yourself feel better, something that doesn’t involve food. Make sure that it’s positive, and not just another unhealthy strategy.
For some people, the interpersonal connection makes all the difference. Could you call a friend, make a date to see a family member, or even cuddle a pet? For others, physical comfort of another type can help. For example, try a luxurious bubble bath, reading by candlelight, or snuggling up under a blanket to watch a film. Inspiration can also jolt you out of emotional eating. Basically, self-care plans or any kind of positive activities like reading success stories, watching TED talks or listening to motivational music can be good.
Finally, though it may sound counterintuitive, try exercising instead of eating. It makes you feel good about yourself, rewards you for activity and boosts energy. Plus, there are many different forms of exercise, so you don’t need to stick to the treadmill. Dancing, water aerobics, horse riding and cycling are all fun ways to get an emotional lift without empty calories.
Most of us just shovel food into our mouths, but (as mentioned above) this is a major trigger for over-eating.
Ways to develop positive habits for conscious and healthy eating as a daily habit:
Finally, over time, healthy eating affirmations could help reshape your negative and self-destructive beliefs about food. There’s a shaming, self-destructive culture around food. It tells us we’re bad or disgusting if we have difficulty with emotional eating. When you form new, happier attitudes about eating, this actually reduces your likelihood of eating too much!
As with all affirmations, it’s important to get the wording right and tailor the affirmation to your preferences. However, here are some excellent examples to get you started:
Although most affirmations are best said in the morning, food-based phrases are best said during meal preparation or just before eating. You can also write them down and pin them on the fridge or cupboards. Seeing your affirmations could give you pause if you’re tempted to fall back into emotional eating!
If you want to discover more healthy techniques for mindful eating, be sure to claim your free Law Of Attraction toolkit. Learn how you can use visualization exercises, such as dream boards, to stop emotional eating. The toolkit also includes a large supply of affirmations to use for healthy eating and weight loss!