What is emotional eating?
Would you consider yourself an 'emotional eater'?
You’ve all heard the term ‘mindful eating’, I’m sure. Emotional eating is the opposite. It’s coming from a place of disconnect and it’s fuelled by emotional triggers rather than physical hunger. It’s that one biscuit that turns into 10 because we’ve already ‘blown it’. It’s that large bag of chips that suddenly disappeared. It’s that entire block of chocolate eaten in the car before anyone sees. It’s that tub of ice cream that was suddenly gone before you knew it – and the guilt that follows.
Firstly, there is a time and a place for emotional eating and there is nothing wrong with the occasional comfort from food when other options are in the 'too hard basket'. We need to ditch the guilt overall. However, it's also great to have a toolkit of other strategies that you can use as an alternative to food when you're able. It's about feeling good and feeling in charge when it comes to eating. No matter what you eat. If we simply ate what our body needed (and yes, sometimes that’s a piece of cake!) we’d be more than half-way there. But, more often than not, that sneaky little emotional response kicks in and well…. diet over. That’s why I hate diets and why I’m so passionate about helping people who struggle with self-sabotage and emotional eating.
Below are some of the techniques and tips that I use with my clients. They may be simple, but they're not easy so keep remembering that health is a journey and we get there one step at a time.
5 Tips to help manage emotional eating:
1. Press Pause. This means whenever possible, stop before grabbing the food. You may need a note on your fridge door or it could mean putting the comfort foods in a different area. This helps us to remove the automatic response that leads to eating from a place of disconnect. Once you’ve managed to pause. Try to remove yourself from where the food is. Go sit in another room so that you can actually tune into your body. Ask yourself the simple question: Am I hungry? If you're not sure, ask yourself I you could eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts? Chances are if you’re wanting chocolate but not nourishing foods you’re probably not hungry. Real hunger is physical, and what drives emotional eating is mental or emotional. 2. Sit down to eat. Ok, you’ve asked yourself if you’re hungry and whether you are or not you’ve decided to eat. Try to always sit down at a table, knife and fork and a plate and focus on the act of eating. Even if it’s a bag of chips or the leftovers from your child’s lunchbox. Sit down at the table, remove distractions and simply eat. It will taste much better too! 3. Stop labelling foods as bad or good. What happens when someone tells you that you can’t have something you enjoy? I don't know about you, but my natural response is to want it more. When we label certain foods as ‘bad’ foods, they are given too much power and are naturally the foods that we’re going to reach for when we’re feeling stressed. They provide a release, an avoidance and a comfort. Remember, all foods can be part of a healthy diet. No one food in isolation (unless you have a severe allergy) will cause your health to deteriorate. By labelling certain foods as bad, you’re just going to crave them more and overdo it when the stress is too much and you have to have ‘just one’. 4. Feed the need. This one takes a bit of work, and you might need some support but if you’re not hungry – no amount of food is going to satisfy you. Take some time to label the emotions that are causing you to eat when you’re not hungry and give our body what it actually needs. If it’s comfort you're after, perhaps you need a hug. If it’s companionship, give your best friend a call. Finding alternatives to what’s really going on is the key to permanently combatting emotional eating. 5. Do more things that you enjoy. The more you fill your body, heart and spirit up, the less you’ll need food to satisfy you. Or, as Dr Michelle May says; Live the life you crave and food will lose its power.