Not having success losing weight or keeping it off? Chances are your mindset is getting in the way. Our thoughts influence our actions, those actions become habits, and ultimately our way of life. We can’t have significant lifestyle changes without first making a mindset shift. However, that’s often easier said than done. And, for some, a real struggle. Emotional eating is very real, and prevents people from achieving their health goals.
What is Emotional Eating?
In order to change it, we first have to recognize it. Emotional eating typically happens when we use food to soothe or suppress negative emotions. It is often exacerbated after times of loss, when dealing with grief; or during times of stress and/or loneliness. It could be triggered by a difficult time at work, losing a parent, dealing with financial pressures or after a move. Some people learned emotional eating as children… to friends, family conflict, or other personal issues. Unless the emotional eating habits are identified, it’s hard to break the habit.
Are You an Emotional Eater?
Do any of these phrases describe you? If so, you may be an emotional eater.
- You eat to celebrate or reward yourself
- You eat to comfort yourself
- You eat when you’re lonely
- You often turn to comfort foods high in fat/sugar when stressed
- You often eat when you’re not hungry
- You often still feel “hungry” after a meal
Ways to End Emotional Eating
Tune in to Your Emotions
Your emotions exist for a reason– they’re your signal to pay attention to your environment, to adjust our sails, that something may be out of balance. When we are able to recognize them, we can use them to serve us. If we are uncomfortable feeling emotions, we tend to deny or numb them, and the messages they’re trying to send us are left unheard. Instead of dealing with issues in a constructive way, emotional eaters sometimes prefer to avoid feeling unpleasant emotions and numb them with food, alcohol or other bad habits.
Don’t Mentally Beat Yourself Up
You’re human. Beating yourself up for your habits not only gets you nowhere– it’s counterproductive. Your subconscious believes what you tell it, and goes about making it true. Have you heard of the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”? When you tell yourself how “bad” you were for cheating, a part of you starts to believe it. Then, what’s worse – your subconscious often goes about making it happen through self-sabotage. Instead, practice some grace, self-forgiveness.
Practice Positive Affirmations
As mentioned above, the things you tell yourself have a powerful impact on who and what you become — whether you realize it or not. Instead of beating yourself up mentally for what you are NOT doing, practice positive self-talk for what you ARE doing right. This reinforces a mindset of growth and abundance instead of one of lack and failure.
Create New Habits
Disciplined eating requires much more than just willpower. Being in touch with your current habits and triggers, adjusting your course, and learning from mistakes can help you create new, solid habits. For example, make it a rule to never eat past 8:00 PM. Or, always have a superfood shake for breakfast instead of your usual bagel and coffee. Starting small, introducing new habits that you can easily maintain create a solid foundation for success.
Create a New Mindset
In order for your body to change, you really need your mind to change first. Challenge your thoughts, your paradigms, and the way you speak to yourself. If you don’t create a new mindset, you can’t create new results. When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself, challenge the statement.
Visualize the Change
If you were to give up emotional eating and some of your destructive food habits, what would that really look like? How would the way you feel about yourself change? Would the foods you keep in your refrigerator change? Would the clothes in your closet change, if you were to lose unwanted pounds you carry because of your emotional eating habit? Would the way you present yourself be different, how you carry yourself? When you allow yourself to truly visualize and FEEL what it would be like to change, your brain starts to rewire in ways that help facilitate that new mindset.
Find New Pleasurable Activities
Swapping an unhealthy habit for another pleasurable habit that actually does you some good is one trick I share with my weight loss clients. However, I often hear people tell me, “go for a walk” or “take a bath” as a common solution. True – those are GREAT ways to de-stress, calm anxiety and deal with emotions in a positive way instead of eating them. However, you’ll want some other tools in your arsenal to use when you don’t have time to do something like that. Simple things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, applying some lipstick, doing a 3-minute meditation, or texting a friend often work just as well but take a lot less time. They still build you up rather than tear you down and make you feel better about yourself.
Express gratitude for what you body can do, treat it honorably. Chances are you’ve heard the scientific studies about how plants grow more lush and faster when they’re placed in an environment where people speak kindly to them. The same concept applies to humans. Show yourself care, grace, and love. We already talked about how to speak to yourself, and how to affirm your value. Extend that self-care to pampering sessions like getting your nails done, buying yourself a new shirt “just because” or taking time to relax and chill with Netflix without feeling guilty about it.
Practice Mindful Eating
When we’re truly aware of our thoughts and actions, we are in a better place to evaluate how we operate. I know I’m guilty of eating standing up, or while scrolling the Facebook feed on my phone. That’s not mindful eating, that’s distracted eating – and it’s VERY common today. Make it a practice to eat in the same spot in your home whenever you eat (preferably seated at a table). Put your utensils down between bites. Experience the textures and flavors of what you are eating. You don’t know how RARE it is to truly be mindful of the eating experience.
Allow Yourself to Feel Hunger
If you’ve never allowed yourself to truly feel hungry, you may not even know what it feels like. You may even subconsciously FEAR the feeling of hunger. I’ll say it again, our feelings are there to serve us. Don’t be afraid to let yourself get hungry once in awhile. Don’t worry, you won’t necessarily overindulge just because you went an extra hour or two between meals. You won’t slow your metabolism or pass out (this goes for healthy people, not diabetics and those with blood sugar issues). Truly FEELING the hunger, being OK with its presence, is one way to cope with emotional eating. It allows you to tell the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
Track What You Eat and When
I use the Cronometer app to track my caloric intake, but it does much more than that. It tells me my macro and micro nutrient profiles, and I can set goals according to the targets I’d like to hit. Logging foods is easy because so many items are already in their database, and I can even scan barcodes of pre-packaged foods. What I like about it is that the simple act of tracking alone makes me more accountable to my goals.
Keep a Food Journal
While I love technology and the information that apps like the one I mentioned above provide, sometimes we need a more personal approach. Keeping a bullet journal can help you get in touch with your feelings, especially as they relate to what you eat. You can use it to track hunger level on a scale from 1-10, and your mood at mealtimes. Over time, you will start to notice trends and get in better touch with the feelings you have that trigger emotional eating. You can even check out this post on the 30-Day Emotional Eating Writing Challenge
Make Sure You’re Not Nutrient-Deficient
Cravings for certain foods could signal that you are deficient in a certain nutrient. For example, chocoholics may need more magnesium in their diet. While this is somewhat rare, if you’re tracking what you eat, over time an app like Cronometer will tell you which nutrients you need more of. Then, you can go about getting them via whole food sources or make the decision to supplement.
Find a Healthier Comfort Food
You don’t have to give up the pleasure and comfort that food provides altogether either. Ideally, you’ll get to the place where you can make a conscious decision to eat the foods you love and not let your mood control the decision. When you do, consider replacing the chips and dip with popcorn or kale chips, or your full-fat ice cream for a high-protein frozen yogurt.
Meditation is a healthy replacement for emotional eating. Plus, there are even apps that help you get started if the thought of sitting alone in a room, indian-style with your eyes closed freaks you out just a little. I recommend starting with an app called SIMPLE HABIT. It’s a free app, and when you join through my link you’ll get two weeks of their Premium Service for FREE. They even have meditations designed for those who deal with food issues. (TIP: Search terms like “eating” and “food” to find them).
It sounds simplistic, but not having food in your home makes it a lot harder to eat it. Sometimes removing the temptation is even easier than removing the food entirely. You can sometimes get away with tactics like moving the cookie jar off the counter and into a closet, or freezing the Halloween candy. Whatever your “trigger” food is, create barriers that really make you THINK about whether or not you truly want it. If that doesn’t work, get rid of it entirely.
Delay the Urge to Eat
Sometimes simply giving yourself a ten-minute cooling off period from the time the temptation to eat hits until when you actually are allowed to enjoy it is enough to make you decide you weren’t really hungry after all.
Make Sure You’re Properly Hydrated
Often, our bodies mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger. Since most of us don’t drink enough water anyway, it stands to reason that by drinking a glass of water before we eat is a good tool to use. We can do this in conjunction with the “Delay the Urge to Eat” tip as mentioned above. Water first!
You’re Not Alone
In the end, know that emotional eating is, to a certain extent, completely normal. It’s human nature to find joy and pleasure in eating, as well as go overboard sometimes. You’re not alone if you struggle with this. However, if it gets in the way of how you feel about yourself and is negatively impacting your health, it’s time to get some help. If you’d like the support of a coach and online community in your health journey, reach out to me and we can get you set up in one of our online accountability groups.