ARE YOU EATING YOUR EMOTIONS OR EMOTIONALLY EATING?
You've had a stressful day at work, a fight with your partner, or you're just plain exhausted. What do you want to do? For a lot of people, the answer is "eat." I mean how many times have you gobbled something down, not because you were actually hungry, but because you were stressed, tired, bored, anxious, angry, or [insert emotion here]?
There was this study done in 2013 by the American Psychological Association that reported 27 percent of adults stated that they eat to manage stress. Out of those people, 34 percent said they overeat or eat unhealthy foods when they're experiencing tension. Flash forward to our current state of affairs and do you think that percentage is lower or higher? Let's just go ahead and skip past the Google Fact Check on that one! Many of us have been taught that food can “soothe a mood,” that shoveling scoops of ice cream straight out of the pint can help dull the pain of a current state of the world.
Comfort food — those warm, salty, melty bites of mac-and-cheese, for instance — preys upon our inability to say “no thanks” when we seek a reward or feel stressed. I can raise my hand to this one because that used to be me. In fact, last night, I caught myself walking over to the pantry looking for "something" unhealthy. Just because. No underlying reason. I wasn't hungry. I wasn't sad. I wasn't stressed. In fact....I was happy and that is an emotion so I subconsciously needed to feed it! But why?
I read this online article this morning called "The Science Behind Emotional Eating: Why We Do it & How to Stop It" written by Nicole Fabien-Weber and she wrote "As with many negative habits or addictions, emotional eating has a wide variety of triggers." Almost anything can cause emotional eating. Any emotion, be it negative or positive, can trigger someone to want to do something to regulate their mood back to balance.
So how to you get that balance? Well I thought I would share with you a couple tips that have helped me not only during this current time that we are in but that also helped me in the past. I hope that they help you too!
01 - START WITH MINDFULNESS
The first and most important step in stopping or changing any habit, including emotional eating, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental awareness. It’s about being present and paying attention to your mind, body, and surroundings without placing judgement on them.
When we start paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and habits without judgement we can work toward identifying our triggers, understanding our feelings, and taking action to change them.
Do a food and feelings journal
Instead of wasting your mental energy feeling guilty about emotional eating, take some advice from Jay-Z and “get that dirt off your shoulders.” Write it down! Start collecting as much info as you can about your emotional eating habit. Remember, don’t judge yourself, just take notice what is happening and write it down.
Get those thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Make notice of what your triggers were, how you were feeling, what your environment was like, and what you ate. Start to notice trends. Maybe you only emotionally eat when you working from home now, with the kids and the dog and the hubby. Or maybe you realize that you tend to emotionally eat when you are bored because there is no peace and quiet so you may as well snack. Take note of your triggers so you can start to be more prepared for when they happen again.
02 - IDENTIFY & WORK THROUGH YOUR FEELINGS
People emotionally eat because, well, they are feeling emotional!
Feelings can be overwhelming and difficult to understand. Many harmful behaviors stem from our inability to deal with our feelings in a effective and productive way. Instead of avoiding, ignoring, eating, smoking, drinking, or acting out when we experience intense feelings, we can start looking at feelings as information about our needs.
All humans (yep that means you and everyone you have every met) have a set of universal needs that support us in feeling healthy, happy, and fulfilled. When our needs are being met we experience positive feelings like joy, confidence, and inspiration. When our needs are not being met we experience so-called negative feelings like loneliness, frustration, and shame.
So the first step in learning how to deal with your feelings without emotionally eating is to start getting more comfortable and curious about your feelings. Being clear and identifying your feelings helps you to feel less overwhelmed. For many people simply identifying how they feel helps to resolve those feelings. Clarity and understanding allows you to feel more calm and in control.
03 - THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED
Ok so now that you have identified your feelings, the next step is connecting them with your needs. As I mentioned before, our feelings are valuable information about whether or not our needs are being met. When we start to understand the connection between our feelings and our needs, we can work on making a plan to meet our needs to resolve our feelings in a productive way instead of eating.
04 - MAKE A PLAN TO MEET YOUR NEEDS WITHOUT FOOD
Once you discover your triggers, feeling and unmet needs you can start strategizing. If you know you emotionally eat at night because you feel lonely, start having dinners with friends at home or at your favorite local restaurant. You can even join or start a supper club or take a cooking class. Make the extra effort to connect with you community more, call or text loved ones who live far away just to stay in touch.
If you emotionally eat because you are feeling exhausted, work on eating more balanced meals throughout the day so you aren’t starving when you get home. Prioritize sleep and have boundaries for yourself around working on the weekends and/or at night. Do mandatory pampering once a week. Sign up for a creative class that meets regularly on the weekends.
Whatever you do, make sure you start small and make one change at a time. Set just one goal for the week and you can build up from there. Make sure your goals are SMART:
Here are a few good examples of SMART goals:
I will make plans to see my friends or family once a week.
I will eat 3 meals a day M - F.
I will set alarms to remind me to eat at 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, and 7 pm.
Now this one can be a bit unrealistic because we are in the midst of practicing social distancing and no restaurants are open. But what we can do is virtually meet up via Zoom, FaceTime, WebEx, or some other Virtual method to help fill that void of loneliness. This has been a huge help for me the last few weeks and has been a great distraction. Plus seeing my friends and family virtually and catching up while staying healthy has actually been kind of fun.
If you need support in your health goals or would like to work one on one with your emotional eating habits, I'd love to schedule a Free Discovery Call and chat about how I can help get you back on track.
Lucie Mitchell, CTNC
Fierce and Beautiful Wellness
This blog post is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition.