All of us deal with stress in different ways. Some of us go to a kickboxing class and beat the crap out of the bag, others pour out their emotions to a friend for support over the phone. However, many of us comfort ourselves in the secret of our own homes, drowning out our sorrows by reaching into the pantry. At first we tell ourselves it's okay to just have one. You've had a bad day and you deserve ____. Well one leads to another and next thing you know the bag of chips is empty and the weight of the guilt starts to sink in. "What have I done?" Now not only do we feel crappy about our day but we've also blown our health goal for the week. We get stuck in a vicious circle of justification and guilt that eventually we give up trying to be healthy all together. If you can relate the these seven signs listed below you might identify as an emotional eater. But don't worry, I am going to follow up with strategies on how you can overcome it and redirect yourself to more positive and healthy habits.
I want to include that stress is not the only trigger. Loneliness, sadness, anxiousness, boredom and other emotions can also trigger us to eat when we are not truly hungry as a way of coping.
1. You have a regular habit of using food and/or beverages (even coffees and lattes!) as a "pick me up" when you feel drained or fatigued. In fact you probably look forward to this part of your day that gives you a quick break from reality.
You rely on feeling better after a sugary snack or coffee to get your through your day as a reward for showing up in your life and ability to make it through the day.
2. Your craving comes on suddenly and uncontrollably or for a specific food.
No matter how much you try to stop thinking about it, the craving won't subside until you indulge.
3. The thought of eating healthy foods actually seems unappealing.
You think you're hungry but you're not interested in seeking out an apple or another healthy snack. Instead you want something sweet or savoury to satisfy a craving.
4. Once you eat your trigger food, you don't actually feel any more satisfied than before you ate it. In fact you actually feel worse. Unlike feeling physically hungry, emotional eating is rarely ever satisfied through food. This can be frustrating because it may feel like you can never get enough. Eating a balance diet will satisfy true hunger while emotional eating you may feel like a bottomless pit.
5. You continue to keep eating even after you feel "full."
There may be certain foods that you don't trust yourself around and label these foods as "bad" foods. Once you start, you may feel out of control that you can't stop going back for more. Sometimes the only thing that will actually stop us from continuing our binge, is getting to the bottom of the bag where there is no more left to eat.
6. After you eat, you feel embarrassed about your actions and don't want other people to know what you did.
You might hide wrappers, dispose of empty wine bottles, throw away fast food garbage from your car etc before you get home
7. After you indulge in a bad binge, you restrict yourself the next meal or day to make up for eating poorly earlier.
As punishment to yourself, you might restrict calories the next day so that you feel like you have more self control.
Overcoming Emotional Eating
1. Redirect yourself!
Sometimes cravings can be so strong that you need a distraction. Generally they are impulsive and the feelings will subside in twenty minutes. Try listening to calming music, reading a book or phoning a supportive friend.
2. Lace up your sneakers
Going for a brisk walk in the fresh air is both regulating and relaxing. It soothes your nervous system and helps to clear your mind of negative thoughts. This will give you the opportunity to remove yourself from the trigger environment and the release in serotonin will boost your mood.
3. Learn to recognize the triggers in your life that cause you to emotionally indulge
Developing a strategy to overcome overeating starts with identifying what your triggers are. This can be anything that evokes an emotion in you regarding food. Triggers can range from favourite restaurants you drive by on the way home from work, or the smell of the BBQ on a warm summer day. Once you establish what your triggers are you can create a plan of action for the next time you are feeling vulnerable.
4. Write a journal expressing how you are feeling in the moment
Take responsibility for your feelings. Although certain aspects of your life are out of your control, how you respond to them is your choice. When you blame someone or something else for how you feel, it is disempowering you from creating solutions. Write down things you enjoy more than this moment of weakness you are in and how you would feel if you made it through the day without indulging.
5. Go to sleep or brush your teeth!
Sometimes you just have to ride it out. Brushing your teeth while make you think twice before indulging just based on the fact it won't taste as good. Each time you do this, you will feel a little bit more powerful and in control of your actions.
6. Keep a commitment to yourself and reward positive behaviours
When you do succeed in passing on your favourite food, celebrate! This means you were paying attention to how good you feel and you should enjoy the feeling. Each time you overcome the emotional eating hurdle, note it in your journal. When you've reach a small milestone such as one month of not eating out for lunch, reward yourself with a healthy gift such as a spa massage, a new water bottle or a new workout top.
7. Savour the eating experience
Most eating is done without awareness out of learned habit. When you start to pay attention to the sight, smell, taste and texture of your food, you begin to eat more mindfully. Chew and enjoy every bite. You will feel more satisfied when your meal is an experience.
8. Change your value system!
Use a kind and compassionate voice with yourself and challenge yourself to change your own self-defeating thoughts. If you associate "I ate something bad" with "I am a bad person" you are training your mind to believe you are a failure. Instead try saying "I made a decision that was not in the best interest of my health but that does not mean I can't make healthy decisions for the future." Be self-compassionate and understand that the only way you can grow is by learning from your mistakes.
Painful feelings are a part of life and they will come up again and again. This is why it is important for us to learn different strategies for coping other than eating, so we feel equipped to experience hardship and still remain in control of our health.