Devoured a litre of ice cream after a break up? Detoured via a drive-through after a stressful day? Demolished 3 bags of chips to crush that loneliness? ‘Eating your feelings’ is a common coping mechanism. Our unconscious feelings can heavily affect and control our behaviour. So many diets fail because often we are not feeding our body due to hunger, but instead to deal with uncomfortable emotions like fear, shame, guilt, sadness, anger, loneliness, tiredness or even boredom. Of course, immediately following this eating binge, we feel even worse! This can lead to unhealthy patterns with food, weight yo-yo-ing, obesity, or eating disorders.
Ironically unhealthy eating habits, binging and/or poor nutrition just leads to further feelings of anxiety, depression, tiredness, low mood and cravings making it even harder to break the cycle.
Am I An Emotional Eater?
Do you tend to overeat at stressful times?
Do you eat anyway despite being full, or not hungry? Feel like no matter how much you are eating, you are still not satisfied?
When you are feeling upset, angry, bored or anxious, do you reach for the junk food to make yourself feel better?
Has your hunger comes out of nowhere, seems urgent and overwhelming? Physical hunger tends to occur slower, and 3-4 hours after last meal
Do you reward yourself using food?
Do you stop eating when you are full, or stuff yourself silly?
Does eating make you feel safe again?
Do you feel like you don’t have control with food anymore?
Do you feel regret, guilt and shame afterwards? Physical hunger isn’t as likely to cause these feelings
Do you feel hunger in other parts of your body? For example, solar plexus (in between ribs) in your mouth, in your head etc. A growling tummy should be the only true hunger signal
Mind Over Munch – Stop Your Sabotage Cycle
Giving your car a paint job, when it really needs a new motor doesn’t solve the REAL issue. At first it appears like it’s fixed, and it looks kind of nice, but underneath the hood it is actually broken, and so it will continue to cause problems until the underlying issues are resolved.
Regain Control With These Techniques
Tapping may seem a bit strange and unorthodox but it has incredible results for many. Tapping on pressure points around the body (similar to acupuncture) helps to clear emotional baggage and also relieve chronic pain. In simple terms, it helps calm the nerves in your fight or flight control centre. This is activated when we feel anger, anxiety, or pain – and Tapping/EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) helps to release these emotions. Tapping has shown effective for helping with weight control and even cravings.
Learn how to tap your way to success – watch the video here.
Be aware. Start to notice what emotions come up before you eat and any patterns. Start a food diary to keep track of what emotion might be linked to a certain food, or be making you want food when you are not hungry.
Wait 5-10 minutes. Instead of eating immediately on impulse, wait a short time before. This gives you time to evaluate the scenario and ask whether you are actually hungry. When you feel hunger, try to choose a different pastime first (e.g. if you are anxious, phone a friend instead or if you feel bored, take the dog out for a walk…). Focus on feeling joy from activities that are unrelated to food. Studies show changing habits are also a vital key to reshaping patterns, and creating long lasting change in learned behaviours.
Mindful eating is also important. Whenever you eat a meal, ensure you are sitting down and you remove all distractions (phone, tv, feed the cat/baby beforehand!). Take a moment to enjoy the meal, chew each mouthful as many times as possible, and appreciate how good it smells/tastes. Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has shown this aids digestion, and actually helps you to eat less food, and also make better meal choices.
Where did this start? Think about where/when/around who your emotional eating began. Research shows there children easily pick up bad eating habits from family members, and proceed to link particular food with feelings later in life. Was food linked to certain memorable events when you were younger? Or alternatively, did the emotional eating only start after childhood trauma? Seek professional help if delving back makes you too uncomfortable. The important thing is making any small step forwards.
Fighting our brain’s reward centre can be challenging but with a few techniques you can reprogram any misguided emotional attachments, and create a healthy stress free relationship with food again.