Have you ever eaten something when you weren’t hungry? Well, if you answered yes then you have engaged in emotional eating. AKA turning to food for fill something other than your stomach such as lack of activity, comfort, stress relief or another emotion.
I asked a group of people what causes them to emotional eat and the responses I got were extremely varied from writing to ex husbands to boredom to bills.
Whatever YOUR reason is for emotional eating, know this - you are not alone. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, in any given month 43% of women report that they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods due to stress. In the same month, they reported that 36% of women admitted to skipping a meal due to stress. Overall that’s 79% of women who practice unhealthy eating habits due to one single emotion. Stress.
Add to that the number of people indulging due to depression, transitions, celebration and more and you have a huge problem with emotional eating.
For me, transitions have always been a cause for eating. The biggest transition that would cause me to overeat was coming home from work. After shutting my mind out of work mode and walking into my own home my mind would flutter with thoughts. I knew there were responsibilities waiting for me. I wouldn’t always know specifically what it was that I needed to do, but I knew there was something waiting. A significant other to connect with. Laundry. Dishes. Dusting. I would become so overwhelmed with stuff that it was easier to just eat. Sit down with a plate of whatever I could grab the fastest and boom I was occupied. I had something else to fixate on other than the “stuff.” Then, the eating would put me into a coma where I could just zone out. I would feel awful, things wouldn’t get done and it was all food’s fault. And transitions fault. I had to beat it by becoming mindful and realizing that transitions were causing my issues.
One of my clients told me that she emotional ate late at night, when her husband had gone to bed, there was no work to be done and it felt like the first moment of the day that no one needed her, so she could treat herself. Those treats came in the form of pre-packaged, snack food.
By having healthy food on hand those moments of stress, transition or sadness can be battled with good choices that won’t leave you feeling sluggish and cause your insides to churn or blood sugar levels to skyrocket.
While emotional eating is going to occur there are a lot of things you can do to prevent it. You are going to slip sometimes. I slip sometimes. Here are some tips I use to battle emotional eating:
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
As I said before you WILL slip up. You will dive headfirst into an ice cream sundae like a wild dog every now and then. The key to the whole thing is to not harp on the fact you did it and shame yourself so badly that you spark a thread of negative emotions that lead to the behavior continuing. Remember you are a human and you will have slips. Let them go and keeping moving forward in a positive mindset to spark positive emotions and positive eating.
Be Mindful of What Caused the Emotional Eating
When you do slip, or feel like slipping take a moment to be mindful and acknowledge why you feel like bingeing. Maybe you had a bad day at work, are going through a breakup, or for me as I said earlier it used to be coming home from work. When I was mindful enough to recognize that pattern and the emotion behind the pattern I could think about ways to make a change. Maybe it’s having a list of things so I have a concentrated purpose. Maybe it’s having healthy snacks on hand. There are endless possibilities, but to see those possibilities to fight the emotional eating you have to acknowledge it’s there and the details surrounding it.
If you don’t have potato chips or Snickers bars on hand, when an emotional eating craving hits you are less likely to binge on those items. Don’t go to the grocery store stressed or hungry. Prep your meals. Read labels. Buy local. Buy vegetables and prep them. There are tons of preparation tips for being prepared to be ahead of your eating, but the main element is to be prepared. Just like a presentation or sports game preparation is the key to success.
Ask for Help
When we hide our emotional eating it tends to create a cycle of doing it in a hidden space and it becomes something we do with our alone time. There are lots of ways you can ask for help. You can speak with a health coach, you can ask your significant other to take over a few chores, you can delegate some work. Once you identify what some of your specific emotions or stressors are you an identify people who can help you. You don't have to battle it alone.
Develop Creative Rewards
Another emotion that can lead to overeating is happiness and celebration. It’s not uncommon to celebrate life events with a big, unhealthy meal. Combine a whole bunch of these from holidays, work celebrations, personal celebrations of family and friends and you can get loaded down with cupcakes, creamy dips and more. Instead of celebrating your daughters birthday with a huge cake do something fun like visit the waterpark or go rollerblading. The point is, retrain your brain that rewards don’t have to be consumed in calories, they can be so many much more rewarding things.
I’m not going to bombard you will a list of other tips that could help such as going to be earlier or trying yoga, because the list would be endless. The overarching point of this whole thing is this: emotional eating happens to ALL of us for VARIOUS reasons and triggers, identify yours and mindfully work towards battling those triggers and you can truly get a health grasp on your urges.