Updated: May 31
Stress can definitely take its toll on our bodies in many ways - physically, emotionally and mentally. And if you are one who is set off by emotional triggers, food can quickly become a crutch.
Stress, anxiety and negative emotions can leave us feeling an emotional void. Consuming food (especially sweet or salty) can be a way many of us fill the void, whether it be a little mindless snacking or devouring a double scoop of Ben & Jerry's after a break up. Think we've all been there, but where this snacking to create a false feeling of “fullness” or temporary wholeness goes wrong, is when it becomes your go-to coping mechanism for stress.
Emotional Eating Is A Temporary Fix
Truth bomb. While enjoying a small iceberg of Ben & Jerry's may work in the moment to temporarily distract and calm you, eating when you are not legit hungry but rather triggered by negative emotion is a slippery slope. One that often leaves you feeling more miserable than before. Now on top of your heartache or stress, comes the guilt, self-blame and judgements.
This is a nasty spin cycle that can drag you down a pretty dark rabbit hole. Yes, I have been there. And I crawled out--so can you!
Finding Better Ways To Cope
Discovering positive and new ways to deal with negative emotions is one of the first few steps to rescuing yourself from binge eating. The first is obviously admitting to yourself or your GP that you have a problem, and one that is affecting your mental and physical health. This is by far an extremely BRAVE step, so let me congratulate you BIG TIME if you have stood up and said, this might be me. Go you, help is right in front of you!
Become More Aware
Awareness is the absolute key to unlock your recovery. Start to notice when negative emotions flare and just how they trigger an emotional eating response within you. What sparks that urge to seek comfort in a bowl of mac & cheese or packet of Tim Tams? Journal your triggers and start keeping track of how you are comforting yourself with food. What foods do you reach for when you are anxious, angry or upset? How often are you doing this? How does it leave your body feeling after an emotional binge?
Helpful Tip: A Food & Mood journal is a great tool for helping to identify the food you seek when emotional. I share one in my support group that you can download for free. Join the growing Finding Wholesome community, here to get your hands on a copy.
I will be real honest. It can be difficult at first to recognise and understand the difference between eating in response to legitimate hunger versus eating out of emotion. Learning to recognise and distinguish the two and self-regulate does, and may, take some time. Be kind to yourself and allow the journey to unfold. Become more aware each day, each hour. Embrace the new lifestyle habit of eating more mindfully, and really start paying attention to your body's real hunger signals.
A hard truth...there may be many days where you fall back on old habits; forgive yourself and take a step forward again. Keep moving forward one day at a time, owning each success along the way. Beating yourself up over a slip is not the way out of this. It is only going to keep you stuck. So let me share with you my list of ten health tips to help and support you with all of this. Let's start with tip number one, "be kind".
5 Simple Ways To Combat Emotional Eating
If there was one piece of the recovery puzzle that I feel gets overlooked the most, it's the practice of being more kind to yourself.
1. Be Kind
As I am sure you already know, the first step in any recovery for addictive behaviour is awareness and admitting there is in an issue. However, I say being more kind to yourself is floating in tandem with admitting there is a problem. You need to be kind and gentle with yourself from the start. You need to be more loving, supportive and forgiving of yourself through the tough days, the challenges and the slip ups (and there will be set backs).
Practising self care and putting yourself first--perhaps for the first time ever--is an essential step in combating emotional eating.
The road to recovery can be a bumpy, pothole filled road which is why you need to be forgiving and kind to yourself. There will be obstacles and times you trip up and fail. Expect it. Brace for it. And most importantly, be kind and forgiving with yourself when this happens. A child doesn't learn to walk in a day; he or she takes many falls and scrapes to find their balance and take those first steps. Remember this when it gets too hard. A toddler never gives up, they are determined to grow and walk like everyone else. The way forward is not paved with self judgement or sitting back in self pity when it gets too hard. You need to keep standing up. Leave all the negativity behind you and shed that old skin, girl! Release that old outdated pattern. Kindness is the way!
2. The Hunger Scale
This is one of the best practical tools to help you overcome overeating. Grab a pen and write this one down.
Starting right now, I want you to practice rating your hunger each day. This might take some time to master, but understanding and recognising when you are legit hungry versus trying to fill an emotional void, is critical to crushing the vice emotional eating has over you.
How does it work? Next time you go to eat something, on a scale of 1 to 10, rate how hungry you are. If you’re not feeling hungry or are only slightly peckish, you would rate somewhere between 1 to 3. Typically, if it has been less than 2-3 hours since you last ate, you might not actually be feeling real hunger but rather be trying to ease boredom, restlessness, or soothe an emotional trigger. A rating of 1 to 3 this means you could go a bit longer without eating without much discomfort.
The goal is to wait until you reach 4 to 5, and legit hungry before you eat. With true hunger, you might notice a rumbling in the tummy; feel a little light headed, or experience a headache, fatigue and grumpiness. If you wait too long between meals, you can also experience feeling faint, quite irritable, an icy stomach or pains together with shakiness and increased weakness. If it has been more than 3 hours between meals, your hunger will be very noticable and may cause some adverse effects.
It takes a bit of practice, but becoming in tune with your body and what it really needs is an important step. And this leads me into the next tactic, "am I really hungry?"
3. Am I Hungry Or Emotional?
It takes time to shift your mindset from reaching for food when your stress, upset or anxiety peaks. It also takes time to start to recognise and distinguish the genuine sensations of hunger from snacking to fill a void.
But don't worry, I've this covered. Using the Hunger Scale, I want you rate your hunger right now. Record this number, and then answer me this... what is your mood like right now?
Are you worried about the bills, a relationship or other stressor? Are you exhausted from lack of sleep or anxiety? How stressed out are you today? Go ahead and rate your stress level and overall mood from 1 to 5. How high is it? Has your current mood affected your eating habits so far today? Be honest.
Often times we reach for a snack to take the edge off our personal stress or anxiety without even realising it. Before we know it we've had that extra latte, nibbled off our kids' plates or ate the full donut instead of just a taste, and are already scolding ourselves for the mindless binge.
Get back on track. Start to retrain your automatic response to stress and food by adopting the new lifestyle habit of rating your hunger before you eat. Check in with yourself (being kind) and rate your mood and emotional state. Can see you a connection? Did something upsetting just happen?
Asking yourself if you are hungry or emotional is an important step. Allow yourself a moment to pause and check in with yourself before eating. Do you really need that third latte or a sugar soup frappuccino so close to lunch time? Can you push through until the next meal time and find another way to seek comfort or de stress? Start rating your mood throughout the day and make this your new normal starting today. Then add in the next tip, and B R E A T H E.
4. Just Breathe
Our breath is so powerful and overlooked as a healing tool. All too often we are holding on without even knowing it. Holding on to our real emotions or holding back our true opinions. Holding our breath (literally) until the kids are in bed and we can finally flop in a heap on the floor. Yeah, I am hearing you with five kids underfoot at my house, but being conscious of your breathing is a fabulous tool in easing stress and calming fly away emotions.
Breathe, often. Take slow, deep breaths throughout your day especially if you are feeling the stress or anxiety mount. Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold for a count of 1-2-3 and let go, breathing out through your mouth. Do 5-10 of these to calm your nervous system and emotional response.
Alternatively, a highly effective breathing technique for intense stress relief is called Nadi Shodhana, or “alternate nostril breathing,”. Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning “channel” or “flow” and shodhana means “purification.” Yogis practice this one and I have to say, I use it when I find myself struggling with exhaustion or immediately after a stressful situation dealing with my autistic and ADHD kids.
Focusing on your breath is such a powerful way to hit pause, show yourself self-care and check in with yourself. Use this tactic daily and start making it a regular habit. I've had clients plug reminders in their phone to do this prior to school pick up, or after they've got the kiddies sorted in bed. Re-centre through your breath and make sure you are being super kind to yourself.
5. Shake It Off
Taylor Swift was on to something with her smash hit, Shake It Off. Physical activity can immediately help you avoid binge or emotional eating, boost your mood and give you something positive to focus on.
Get active. Next time you catch yourself reaching for that packet of chips or snack you know deep down you really don't need, move your body instead.
You don't need any equipment or a workout routine. I am just suggesting you burst into movement. It can be any kind of activity and the sillier the better. Leap up from your desk and do the Jimmy Chicken. Step away from the fridge or cupboard and run on the spot Footloose style. Grab one of this kids and do a quick TikTok dance. The sudden burst of activity is a sneaky neurological disconnector and will interrupt your automatic response to nibble when feeling stress. A burst movement will instead flood your body with oxygen, naturally lifting your mood and provide space in between your old habit and the freshness of this very moment.
After you stop, rate your mood and hunger. Has it decreased? Has the urge to seek comfort in food eased some compared to before you danced, jumped or skipped? Has your mood shifted or changed in any way?
I am pretty sure I already know the answers to these questions, and hopefully you just experienced how powerful movement can be to boost your mood and redirect your attention. Exercise is the single best therapy for emotional eaters, especially those with underlying anxiety or depression. Getting your heart rate up will boost your brain activity, help you bust through a bad mood and leave you floating on a natural high for hours afterwards. Try it!
At the top of this I promised you instant results. And while it may take a little bit to remember to practise these 5 techniques, once you do, you will be able to instantly shift your automatic response of seeking food for comfort. Write them down:
Be kind with yourself.
Use the Hunger Scale and rate your mood.
Are you really hungry or emotional?
Answer yourself honestly, breathe and shake it off.
You got this!
Put it into action. ...login and share your experience. I'll see you there!
Wishing you health + happiness,
Click to get your FREE digital copy of the 8 Ways To Self Care guide.
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