Emotional eating is the downfall of many of us trying to lose weight. Losing weight isn't all about the number on the scale, it is also an indication that other areas of our lives are not aligned. Many times we deal with the stress of those things through eating. When we try to lose weight, our go-to stress reliever of eating becomes problematic to our end goal.
Recognizing Emotional Eating
Everybody has stress in their lives. Family, jobs, kids, house, life, they all contribute to our stress levels. The first step to addressing emotional eating is by recognizing it when it's happening. How many times have you caught yourself grabbing a cookie or muffin or cake or chips even though you weren't hungry? Many times we don't recognize it until after we've devoured our food of choice. At first it's a balm to soothe our minds but soon becomes an ache in our gut from something we didn't really need or want.
Recognizing when you emotionally eat is the first step to defeating emotional eating. You can't try to fix something you're not recognizing or acknowledging. This is where mindful eating comes into play.
Mindful vs. Mindless Eating
The next time you think you want to eat, practice mindful eating by asking yourself, am I really hungry? If the answer is yes, ask yourself if you're so hungry you'd eat an apple or a salad or a chicken breast and vegetables or another healthy choice. If the answer is still yes then you are truly hungry and should proceed with your snack or meal.
If your answer is no, you don't want to eat any of those things, then you are not truly hungry. You are either bored or stressed or trying to fulfill a need other than hunger.
Boredom and stress can lead you straight to the refrigerator or pantry. What better way to take the edge off than a piece of cake or a bag of chips? This type of mindless eating leads to not only eating unhealthy food, but usually involves larger than normal quantities of it.
Before you know it you've hit the bottom of the ice cream container or are licking the crumbs from the inside of the chip bag. By stopping before you eat anything and asking yourself why you are eating, i.e. true hunger vs. something else, you can prevent mindless, or emotional eating.
Addressing the Emotional Side
We've determined that we aren't really hungry, that we are trying to deal with emotions that have nothing to do with hunger. If it's boredom I suggest finding something else to do like reading a book, going for a walk, or taking a nap. Removing yourself from the situation of wanting to eat distracts your brain and before you know it you're immersed in something else. You forget that you ever wanted to eat.
If you are dealing with stress or other emotions there are many things you can do to take food out of the equation. I deal with emotional eating on a regular basis but have learned how to beat it. When I'm stressed and cake or cookies are calling my name, I try to tackle something on my To Do list. If I've had a particularly stressful day I'll take a hot bath. Other things I try are:
Go for a walk or do some sort of exercise
I believe activity of any sort is best for dealing with the desire to emotionally eat. It gets the blood pumping, improves your mood by releasing those feel-good endorphins in your body, and physically removes you from the kitchen or pantry. By the time you're finished with your activity or exercise, you've forgotten that you ever wanted to eat.
Write in a journal
When I'm feeling stressed one of my best outlets is writing things down. I have a number of journals and notebooks all over the house, as well as on my computer. Once I write out whatever is bothering me it starts to lose its power. It sounds silly but it is such a release to put it down on paper (or on the computer screen). Don't hold back when journaling, put it all out there until you've captured everything that is bothering you. By doing so you'll feel like you've dealt with the issue(s) and can move on to something else. It's very freeing.
Talk to somebody
Sometimes the best way to deal with emotions is to talk about them. You can call a friend, talk to a spouse or significant other, ask your family to listen, or go online and find a chat room or support group. There is always somebody willing to talk if you look hard enough. If you feel what you're dealing with requires more in-depth discussion, seek out the help of a therapist. Many are covered by insurance and can provide good, unbiased feedback. They can also teach ways to deal with your emotions or stresses you have in your life.
Remember self care
Do something kind for yourself. Life moves so quickly that we forget to take time for self care. It doesn't have to be anything big or expensive, something as simple as painting your toenails or reading a book is enough. If you want to go a little bigger go get a facial or manicure and pedicure. Even taking the time to just go for a drive can help you find the calm you need. I love nothing more than to go for a drive on a summer evening with the windows down and soft music on the radio. It's very relaxing and peaceful.
There will be times when all you want to do is eat and no matter what you try, you can't defeat it. Knowing that upfront is important to long term success. When you do have an unsuccessful bout with emotional eating, learn from it. It's easier to look at it and analyze it once you're out of the emotional frenzy. Figure out what it was that was truly bothering you and address it. By doing so, you learn what types of situations push you in food's direction and how to stop them before they get out of hand. Losing the fight can give you the tools to win the next time around. You won't win all the battles, but you can eventually win the war.
Emotional eating can be a major obstacle to your weight loss success, but it doesn't have to be. Practice paying attention to when you eat and why. That will help you better learn to counter the urges in the future. Like with anything, practice makes perfect. You won't one day decide, “I'm going to always eat mindfully” and presto, you never emotionally eat again. It's something you have to practice and remember to do daily, even hourly. The more you do it the more automatic it will become. And one day, it will just be a natural part of how you approach food and eating.