Let’s Talk About Emotional Eating

It’s happened to all of us! A bad day at work, an argument with your sweetheart, a project that falls short, and a bunch of other things that leave you feeling bummed out. Now, you are stopping on your way home and picking up a pint of your favorite Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt. Once home, you scarf down leftover low mein and general tsos chicken because sitting in traffic for an hour left you frustrated and exhausted.  And you’re stuffed, beyond full, but before even thinking twice, you mindlessly grab the pint of Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt as you review in your head over and over how terrible your day was. Before you know it, the spoon hits the bottom of the container.

Ugh…now you feel even worse.

Mindless eating is a common way of eating that is the exact opposite of eating mindfully.  Mindless eating can happen as a way of managing stress or other problems, and can become a coping mechanism to soothe an emotional need. A pattern of mindless eating can lead to weight gain and ultimately to an unhealthy relationship with food. You may enjoy a temporary feeling of relief from your favorite go to food when you are stressed out, but it won’t satisfy the real need. You experience a temporary feeling of relief from your favorite go to food when you are stressed out, but it won’t satisfy the real need.  Over and over again, you’ll be faced with the same trigger or underlying issue. Sooner or later, you discover that emotional hunger can’t be filled with eating.
It’s a familiar and vicious cycle – you eat because you are upset, and then you are upset because of what or how much you ate.

Could now be the time to identify the reasoning behind this harmful pattern and work on breaking the habit? Physical hunger and emotional hunger are two very different needs and sensations, but can easily be confused.

Physical hunger comes on slowly, and if you’ve ever noticed, that type of hunger can wait. Instead of eating pretzels, you can wait for a nutritious meal, such as a Hilary’s veggie burger with Brussels sprouts, as they cook in the oven. When we eat to fuel and nourish our bodies, there are no feelings of guilt. On the contrary, we feel great!

Emotional eating on the other hand, cannot wait. You feel the need for food right away…right now, something to feel that need instantly. We also tend to want heavy, creamy, crunchy, high carbohydrate, low nutrient dense foods that are known as “comfort foods”.  Ever notice the negative feelings that are associated with comfort food eating? After eating these foods, it is common to go into self -destruct mode, self-sabotage and feelings of guilt and shame.

Did you know that research has demonstrated that it takes 21 days to create a new habit? Now is a great time to learn healthier coping mechanisms and establish a healthier relationship with food!

Nourishing your body and your mind will help you live a longer, healthier and happier life.

Here are a few steps to help you get started!
1. Identify the cause of your emotional eating. Are you stressed, bored, un-happy or do you feel social pressures to overeat?

2. Find and practice healthy alternatives to engage in when you’re feeling emotional such as writing in a journal, talking with a friend, exercising, singing, taking a bath, knitting, coloring, crossword puzzles, or reading. The possibilities are endless!

3. Know what works best for you and become familiar with your top 3 favorite activities to do immediately after a meal and in between meals.  Practicing this technique will help you feel confident and provide some security, knowing that you have a plan to manage your emotions as an alternative to eating when you are not hungry.

4. Remember that you’re human and it’s inevitable to have slip -ups and run into obstacles.   Stay positive, determined and focused on your goals.  Educate yourself and get support.

Do you have emotional eating? Take the quiz!

Here are additional books and websites to reference for coping mechanisms.

1. Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
2. Shrink Yourself- Break free from emotional eating forever! by Roger Gould MD
3. EmotionalEating.org