Emotional eating is when a person turns to food for comfort usually fatty, or sugary "comfort" or junk foods. This is typically in response to emotions and feelings instead of genuine hunger.
Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is triggered by an emotional cause. To me this is a staggering statistic and one that is fully preventable. Today, I am sharing five ways you can stop turning to food when Life's unexpected bumps upturn your cart. Instead of drowning your sorrows in Ben & Jerry's or the bottom of a Doritos bag, I am about to show you some healthier ways to manage emotions and prevent emotional binges.
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1. Recognise Your Triggers
This might be easier said than done, but recognising the emotional triggers that have led you to seek food for comfort is a powerful starting point. If you know when someone hurts your feelings after an argument, you predictably load up on takeaway or chocolate, then coming up with a non-food source of comfort is critical. Do something other than seeking food like going for a bike ride, long brisk walk or losing yourself in a craft or activity that gives you a sense of joy.
I realise this may be hard for many, especially if binge eating has been your coping mechanism for a long time, but you need to catch your triggers and do something derail your automatic response. A useful exercise is to write down what is happening right now and own it. You will find a pattern there, one that we need to shift.
Grab a piece of paper BEFORE you dive into that bowl of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and answer these 3 questions:
What am I really upset over? Be factual, what happened?
How do I feel right now? What are your emotions?
Why did I choose (insert your food choice)? What did you need: salty, sweet, savoury?
You might be upset over an ongoing quarrel with your partner or family member. It may have left you feeling unheard, insulted or taken for granted. You might be feeling angry and pissed off and big serving of mac & cheese or spicy pizza is a satisfying distraction. Or perhaps you are feeling teary, depressed and a sweet frappuccino or ice cream fits the mood. What is your go-to comfort food? Start paying attention.
2. Begin The Mental Shift
When we are dissatisfied with something, especially a deeply ingrained habit or pattern, it is helpful to call upon affirmations to help you make the shift. Use them to affirm new behaviors.
Affirmations are statements of intention repeated over and over until they become your truth. You can use them to successfully push past negative self-talk when you are in periods of transition from the old to the new. Stating "I am now my ideal weight"when clearly you are not, will understandably bring up a lot of resistance because it hasn't happened just yet. You can look in the mirror and see its not yet true.
Sometimes our inner voice can be a real mean bitch, she'll point out the obvious which only serves to keep us feeling and staying stuck. We need to bypass the doubt, negative self-talk and begin affirming you ARE on the path to to your goal. And you can do it by using statements or affirmations of your new truth.
TRY THIS: Rather than making a statement your mind can dispute, affirm that you are "in the process of losing weight". This will be much easier for your inner mean girl to believe. Let's put it into practice. The next time you are upset and find yourself going for the fridge, cupboard or takeaway, stop and say this out loud:
"Oh snap!I'm doing it again--but I have the power to change this! I am already in the process of changing this pattern."
You may still end with your takeaway, ice cream or Tim Tams, but you have just made a small (and rather massive) change by acknowledging what you are doing. Awareness is key.
Making a verbal statement is a powerful tool in rewiring your neurological response. By affirming you are NOW in the process of change, you can begin to try new things and shift. Think of it as giving yourself permission to change. This sort of statement as I mentioned, bypasses any negative self-talk that is all too common in emotional eaters, and gives you permission to finally shift, change and let go.
Go write down your affirmation and post it in a few key areas you will see often throughout the day. And then, be proud. You actually already ARE in the process of change just by reading this article--you are clearly seeking change and the support to do so. Back pat.
2. Keep A Mood & Food Diary
In my first tip to derail emotional eating and recognise your triggers, I mentioned becoming aware of what emotions trigger the need for comfort food, and also to start paying attention to which foods you routinely crave. You were asked to make note of what upset you, how you felt and what food type you craved. This is key to ending the habit of using food to soothe yourself in times of stress or upset.
A very useful tool to help collect this information is a diary for tracking your mood around binges and documenting which foods you are going for. If you begin to record your habitual data, over a short time you can begin to see patterns forming that may prove very helpful in overcoming turning to food when you are upset.
TRY THIS: Using the three questions from step 1, spend the next two weeks answering these questions every time you catch yourself binging or using food to soothe the emotional pain. I guarantee you'll quickly see who is upsetting you the most often, and where some relationship or boundary work needs to be done. You will also begin to notice what foods you are automatically reaching for when emotional.
From this data we can make some healthier swaps in the interim while you are learning to find others non-food ways to comfort yourself. This becomes another key step in ending emotional eating, and for good!
3. Healthy Alternatives To Junk Food
All too often, when we are emotional we crave fatty, high sugar foods to quell the hurt. The problem with this is that in most cases, the foods we are binging on have very little nutritional value and are in essence empty calories super loaded with trans fats, excess sugar and chemical flavour. As you are learning to recognize and choose other non-food ways to handle emotional stress, making sure the food you do choose are healthy, wholesome and full of essential nutrients is important.
As a Health Coach, I know it takes time to heal from emotional eating, and many times that means seeking some outside therapy to heal those old hurts. However, in the meanwhile, I feel it is important to teach people healthy options. Chances are you will relapse, its part of recovery, and it is far better you do it on PB and celery sticks full of protein and dietary fibre than a bowl of sugary chemically flavoured ice cream. Here are some suggestions to use if you must snack:
Drink water. I'll expand on this in a moment, but a glass of water is a super healthy choice before you give into a binge. Enjoy it ice cold, or as a warm herbal tea.
Swap sugary chocolate bars for homemade protein bliss bars made with raw cacao which contains magnesium and has a natural calming effect. Protein helps to balance blood sugar levels, and you can control the sugar content. Find healthy recipes here.
Make your own chips and bake them instead of frying. Try kale, sweet potato, carrot, broccoli, zucchini and more. Find recipes here.
Reach for crunchy carrots, celery or apple instead of fries, chips or pre-packaged snack foods. You can add a smear of hummus, homemade dips, and nut butters to satisfy your taste buds and still get that crunchy treat. Find dip recipes here.
If you are craving pizza, make your own on a low carb wrap based and focus your toppings on healthy items that have big flavour and nutritional value such as finely shredded spinach or kale, olives, sun dried tomatoes, onions, feta cheese (instead of cheddar or mozzarella), roasted chicken, vegetables or tofu instead of deli meats. Try olive oil, smashed avocado or homemade hummus for a pizza sauce.
Choose icy poles if you are craving ice cream, or better yet make your one "nice cream" from bananas, a hint of vanilla and coconut cream. Learn how here.
If you want cookies or biscuits make your own from scratch to control the sugar and be sure to add fibre with oats, chia seeds, psyllium husk or other natural sources of dietary fibre. Sweeten with home squeezed juice, stevia, or raw organic honey. Dry dark chocolate pieces instead of milk chocolate.
Try a bowl of fruit salad instead of reaching for lollies. If you chop up fruit or use a melon baller tools, you can make super healthy looking "candy" out of nutritionally dense fruits such as rock and watermelon, fresh or frozen red or green grapes, and all berries; chopped apricots, apples, mango, pear, and bananas.
If you crave colas or other fizzy drinks, swap the for a fizzstick or mineral water. Flavour with the natural goodness of fresh fruits, veggies and herbs. You body will thank you! Find infused water recipes here.
Try these tips next time you find yourself automatically responding to stress with junk food.
4. Drink More Water
I can't stress this one enough. Water is a dieter's best friend and does more than just hydrate the body. Reaching for a glass of tap or filtered water when you are upset provides a positive distraction, but having a drink also improves your mood.
Researchers have found that the greater the water consumption, the better your mood. So when you are upset or feeling emotional, give to your body by having a few sips of water or herbal tea. Icy cold can provide a good boost for some, while others may find a warm cuppa does the trick better. Either way, having a leisurely sip of water rather than grabbing an unhealthy snack in times of stress is a good step forward.
5. Replace Binge Eating With Activities
As your journey to recover from emotional eating begins, turning to non-food comforts will become essential. Forming new habits around big feelings and emotions takes time, but start now to look for positive ways you can be kind to yourself when you are emotional. You might turn to a hobby like sewing, scrapbooking or gardening. Or try a self care practice such as a warm cuppa and bubble bath, a few minutes of meditation or picking up a favorite book to distract yourself from food.
The more you can replace the urge to binge with satisfying your needs in other ways with activities, the happier you will become. Make a list of things you love to do and keep it handy for the next time you are feeling down or upset. Go do one or two items on your list, then feel good you made a big step forward.
I hope you have found these tips and suggestions useful. Emotional eating is a challenging habit to overcome but it absolutely can be done. Start your journey to recovery with some of these tips provided. If you are really having a hard time, book a Health Strategy session with me. Help is just a click away!
Put it into action ...what tips can you implement today?
Wishing you health + happiness,
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