This can be a tricky one to overcome, because it’s different for everyone. I’m an emotional eater, I always have been. But not just in times of stress or sadness, or when anxiety and depression take hold. I find I tie all of my emotions around food, and it’s a difficult habit to control. You’ll notice I didn’t say break there, that’s because I haven’t found a way to break it yet! Celebrating a new job? Let’s eat! Catching up with old friends? Let’s eat! Feeling down? Let’s eat! Anxious over what that person said? Let’s eat! And so on and so forth. It can be a never ending cycle and one that’s hard to separate.
I’m sure there are a lot of you ladies just like me, but either don’t accept this is what they actually do, or keep it a secret as there is still a level of taboo surrounding it within their family or circle of friends. Hell, I’m 34 years old and only in the last year have I realised that I have this disconnect with food, comfort and emotion. (By the way, I know this can be a very difficult subject to discuss, I’ve only really opened up about it recently as it started to become a huge issue for me, and a problem shared is a problem at least halved, right?) I will share with you some ways I’ve found that help me get this pattern of self sabotage under control.
Firstly, what is emotional/comfort eating? Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better, eating to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. You might reach for ice cream, sweets or chocolate when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the take away after a stressful day at work.
Occasionally using food as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism, when your first impulse is to open the fridge or raid the press whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.
No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.
Awareness and acceptance.
This is the first point, and probably the most important. When you are fully aware of your emotional eating and accept it for what it is, that’s when you can take back the control and begin to make changes that will help you. Don’t dare feel bad when you come to this realisation, this is a hugely positive step!
Start loving your body.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you only get one body girls, so start loving it. Don’t look at in disdain and compare yourself to everyone else. *Your* body is powerful, capable of wonderful things! In the scheme of things, you only have your body for a very short time, don’t waste that precious time judging it harshly. It’s yours, own it, love it, take care of it! I was one of those people who thought that once I hit my goal weight that I would magically stop judging and disliking my body, however hindsight and experience now tells me that you have to stop this dislike before you can stop emotional eating! Again, these two steps have been for me the most important, as it’s still something I experience and have to get under control, and without these anything I’d try would be pointless.
Distraction and replacing are very successful tools for helping you overcome emotional eating. When you feel the urge, and that’s what it is, an overwhelming burning urge to eat when you aren’t physically hungry try and either distract yourself with something or replace the food with something. Make a list of things you’d like to change around the house. Organise your presses/wardrobe. Write up a list of things you’d like to achieve in a certain time frame. Lists, lists and lists again! My partner laughs at the amount of lists I make sometimes, but unbeknownst to him for me it’s a very effective coping mechanism in the battle against emotional eating! Replace the food with a steaming cup of tea, enjoy the calming effect it has, to just sit there for ten minutes, sipping your tea. Us Irish love a good cup of tea and there’s nothing it can’t solve so emotional eating is no exception!
There are many other ways to cope with emotional eating without calories. You could start keeping a journal/diary, meditate, take up a new hobby, learn something new. Try out these new techniques when you aren’t craving food so you get them spot on for when you really need them. You wouldn’t want to learn to swim in rough water, nor do you want to learn the art of soothing yourself without food on a very bad day. With practice and kindness you *can* control emotional eating.