What is emotional eating? I’m sure we’ve all experienced this more than once. When you reach for a sweet when you’re anxious about a deadline you’re supposed to be working on, when you eat a large bag of crisps after dinner because you’re lonely or when you eat a whole tub of ice-cream because you’re feeling angry – that’s emotional eating. I’m sure you could add many more examples. Take a moment to give it some thought – how often do you eat for reasons other than hunger?
The first thing you need to do to help you overcome emotional eating, is to become aware of your emotions. Emotional eating has probably become such an automatic response that you don’t even realise that you are doing it. So what you need to do is take a moment to become aware. Don’t be afraid to feel. Don’t push down those feelings with food. You need to learn to just be with those feelings. You don’t have to act on them, just acknowledge them.
A good technique is doing a mini-meditation whenever you are reaching for something to eat:
Take a moment to stop whatever you are doing. You can keep your eyes open or closed. Take a moment to focus on your breath. Focus on where you feel the in-breath entering your body and where it leaves the body as you exhale. Now take a moment to observe what is going on inside of you at this moment. What are your thoughts? What are your feelings? What are you feeling in your body? Just observe – don’t judge. Now bring your attention back to your breath and think about the food you are about to eat. Are you really hungry for it? Or are you eating for other reasons? When you are ready, open your eyes and proceed with awareness. If you still want to eat, do so mindfully. If you have decided you don’t want to eat, put it aside for later when you really feel like it.
Emotional eating is not bad. We all do it. We eat to celebrate, we eat to treat ourselves. Emotional eating only becomes a problem when it becomes our primary way of dealing with problems and we are not aware of it. So don’t be hard on yourself for eating emotionally and don’t judge yourself.
If you feel that you are gaining weight and you aren’t sure why, you might need to take a closer look at what you eat when you are feeling emotional and what exactly those trigger emotions are. Do you eat when you are angry? Do you eat when you are sad? Or do you eat when you are happy or excited? You could record a diary for a couple of weeks to get a better idea of which emotions cause you to reach for certain foods for comfort.
Once you are more aware of your eating habits, you need to decide how you can change them. Try making a list of your trigger emotions and next to each one give a few alternatives to food for venting the emotion. For instance, instead of reaching for a chocolate when you are angry, try going outside for a quick walk. Or put on a CD really loud that will help you to express what you are feeling. The pull towards the chocolate might be a lot stronger than the alternative, but just tell yourself that you are first going to try the alternative and then have the chocolate afterwards. You might even find that you won’t feel like the comfort food after you have found a different way to vent the emotion.
There might still be times that you give into eating because you are emotional, but then still try to stay conscious of your full signals. You are still in control if you stop eating when you are satisfied – not over full.
Join our mailing list and receive your free eBook 'Eat Mindfully Intro' to learn more about how you can get back in touch with your natural eating rhythms so that you'll never feel the need to diet again.