Is emotional eating holding you back?


Many women suffer immensely from emotional eating. These types of women often see foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they often follow restricted dieting regimes that cut our whole food groups or macronutrients, and are stuck in a cycle of restrict, binge, restrict and gradually getting further and further away from their goals.

Stress eating, or emotional eating, is a way of consuming food to help ease negative emotions or pain. Emotions such as sadness, boredom, stress, fear, worry, guilt, shame, or loneliness may feel overwhelming, especially if triggered by a major life event, such as:

  • A breakup
  • Job change or work conflict
  • Health concerns
  • A recent move
  • Financial concerns

There are a number of reasons why people are drawn to food in the midst of stressful situations, but many of them are related to the feeling of comfort that food may provide, hence the term 'comfort foods'. They may help relieve the tension of whatever feels stressful or worrisome.

So why do we emotionally eat?

Emotional eating is complex and generally involves reaching for comforting foods when you are stressed, tired, sad, or exhausted. Often, this is developed by deep feelings of not being good enough, being a failure, and not believing you can get to your goal. These limiting emotions and beliefs are what pushes women towards emotional eating when life gets tough.

Compensating for negative emotions is the most common form of emotional eating that I come across with clients, which is even more obvious through this past year of lockdown. However, there are other forms which include using food as a reward. This is usually learnt in behavior from childhood. I am sure you all would have experienced getting a chocolate, ice-cream, or take-away from your parents if you did well in school, or played well in a game, or accomplished something. We take this learnt behavior into adulthood and some women will use food as a reward for following their plan all week because they ‘deserve it’ which we know from the research can result in binge eating, poor relationship with food and is associated with weight loss failure.

Or sometimes, women will just eat because they are bored, we have all been guilty of this. But if you are doing this whilst on a weight loss or healthy ‘journey’ then that is a sign there is some limiting beliefs or emotions.

Emotional eating triggers and strategies to combat them.

Everyone is different. However, what you need to understand is your emotional eating triggers. This is the first step in ending emotional eating. When you have the urge to emotionally eat. Take notice of what emotions are present. Are you tired, stressed, overwhelmed, bored? Once you are aware of your triggers you can put an action plan in place so when you start to feel that emotion pop up you have a plan in place. This could be as simple as;

  • Going for a walk
  • Doing 5-minutes of meditation
  • Journaling or listening to music
  • Drinking water / juice (you may just be de-hydrated)
  • Calling a friend

When those emotions come up that trigger you to emotionally you might find after you do something else that you know longer have that urge anymore. This will take time and practice to disassociate your mind from emotional eating and to connect to the new action plan. But overtime, it will become automatic. It may not come easy to you, but take your time and really sit with the feelings.

Clear negative emotions and limiting beliefs

If this is something that you have struggled with for a long time, you have complete loss around food and feel incredibly overwhelmed around food. Working with someone to clear those negative emotions and negative beliefs to enable you to feel empowered and in control around food is going to be key in your recovery.

Your beliefs are the driving force for your actions. If you have limiting beliefs about what you are capable of and what you deserve then you will only continue to self-sabotage yourself.

A simple strategy you can do at home to improve this is practice journaling. Writing down every night or first thing in the morning;

·     2 things you are grateful for
·     Something that made you smile
·     2 things you like about yourself
·     Something you are proud of yourself for

Overtime, this can significantly reduce stress, improve sleep, and repair your relationship with yourself. Again, this does take practice and commitment to do.

Think ahead to how you may feel

When choosing how to process your emotions and learning how to control stress eating, ask yourself if your actions will make you feel better or worse in the aftermath. For example, choosing to go for a walk or taking time to read will have a very different effect on how you feel compared to consuming a large amount of food.

This simple exercise can help you to reconsider how your choices in the moment will make you feel in the long term. The key is to understand what the true cause of your stress eating is; and with this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to choose options that don’t focus on food.

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