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How to Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is very common. For many of us, our emotional eating relieves stress and provides comfort when we aren’t sure how to manage life stressors. Unfortunately, these actions can get in the way of accomplishing your weight loss goals. 

As such, emotional eating lives in the grey area of the mind-body connection. To help support better habits, we need to both learn better emotional coping strategies along with making healthier food choices. This allows us to clean up our diet, identify our triggers, and ultimately achieve a more stable state of wellbeing.

By noticing your patterns, identifying your triggers, and giving yourself time and space, you can choose non-food alternatives to finally put a stop to emotional eating.

Read on for some evidence based tips to cope with your feelings and emotions in non food ways.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better, reward yourself, or to fill an emotional need. This is why many individuals eat emotionally when stressed, sad, or lonely. Eating can help us feel better…. At least temporarily. 

So, let’s take a look at how emotional eating shows up in our daily lives. 

This might include eating a tub of ice cream after the kids go to bed, ordering takeout when you’re lonely, or even taking a trip to the drive-through after a long day at work. 

Unfortunately, these actions only cover up the root of your stress. After you binge, not only do the original feelings return, there is often an additional dose of shame that comes with eating excess calories, sugar, sodium, and fat.

If you’re still not sure whether you are eating emotionally, take a look at this checklist below:

Why is emotional eating a problem? 

If you are eating high calorie foods regularly, or eating until you are stuffed, it’s going to be hard to meet your weight loss or weight maintenance goals. Emotional eating also makes it incredibly easy to neglect your mind-body connection and ignore the root of your emotions.  

See, emotional eating feels good in the moment, but it’s not a true solution to stress, loneliness, boredom, or even anger. In fact, when the moment passes, you often feel worse post-binge than you did before.

This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle where you feel powerless against the urge to eat and powerless against your own emotions. The cycle looks a little something like this:

Emotional eating cycle

Types of Hunger

Emotional hunger is when we crave food because we’re triggered by emotion. The reason for eating is driven by pleasure, or comfort. This feeling appears suddenly, often felt above the neck, and almost always accompanied by feelings of stress, loneliness, sadness, or fatigue. 

Physical hunger, on the other hand, is when your stomach feels empty, hollow, and may rumble. This type of hunger typically builds gradually, and happens usually a few hours since your last meal.  

Knowing the difference between different types of hunder is the key to solving emotional eating. Once this awareness is built, we can begin the real work of tracking our personal habits and making an action plan to support our goals.

Notice Patterns

What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is related to soothing negative feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for reaching a goal or celebrating an event.

To start understanding these sensations, I recommend journaling. The most questions to ask are often:

  1. When do you want to emotionally eat?  
  2. What are your triggers?
  3. What are your feelings you’re trying to get away from?  
  4. What foods do you usually go to when you feel this way?  
  5. How did you feel before you ate?
  6. How did you feel after you ate?

Once you gather more information about why, when and how you emotionally eat, you can identify patterns that will help you change your actions.

Take Control

The next question we need to ask is a little more personal. Is there an action I can take to address the root cause of how I’m feeling?  

For many of the women I work with, this one can be tough– especially with the many responsibilities we balance on a daily basis. Part of taking back control, however, is understanding where you might need more support that you originally thought. 

For instance, if you eat emotionally and identified stress as a trigger, some ways to support a healthier balance could include:

  • Ask family or friends when you need help
  • Hire house cleaning or child care to reduce your workload
  • Delegate some responsibilities
  • Take time to rest
  • Prioritize some time for yourself 

Remember! You are in control and can make these decisions, there are many other options than to accept that you “are an emotional eater.”

Non-Food Management 

It’s important to find other (non-food) ways to manage your emotions. These are activities that allow you to feel fulfilled in a healthy way that isn’t reliant on food. 

When working with clients, I like to get a list going. I call this a personal Nourishment Menu— a menu of options that help you care for your mind in practical, actionable ways.

Here are some Nourishment ideas to get you started:

  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk 
  • Sit outside 
  • Drink some hot tea
  • Watch Bob Ross on You Tube
  • Listen to music 
  • Color a picture
  • Play with your pet
  • Nap 
  • Write in your journal 
  • Call a friend 
  • Dance 
  • Meditate 
  • Pray 
  • Yoga 
  • Clean 
  • Sing 
  • Shower/bathe 
  • Squeeze a stress ball

Remember, self-care is great but don’t say you’ll take a bubble bath if you don’t have time to get undressed and wet.

Give Yourself Time and Space

Your emotions can become so entwined to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you’re upset or stressed without thinking about what you’re doing. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve eaten half a bag of tortilla chips. This makes many of us feel as though we have no control against our cravings, especially when it’s something we struggled with our entire lives. 

However, what most of us need is just a bit of time and space. This gives us an opportunity to slow down and make a different decision.

When you have the urge to emotionally eat, set a timer for 20 minutes and choose an activity from your nourishment menu. Remind yourself of your weight loss goal and why it’s important to you.   

During this time, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Accept them, don’t fear them, remind yourself that you are practicing managing your stress in a non food way.  

Give yourself physical space. Leave the kitchen, go to a different floor of your house, or go outside.  

When your timer goes off, if you are still craving the food, put some on your plate and have a portion. Enjoy it sitting down, slowly, and mindfully.  

Seek Professional Help

FInally, it’s important to know that professional support is always an option. 

If you’ve tried self-help options but you still can’t control emotional eating, consider therapy with a mental health professional. Therapy can help you understand why you eat emotionally and learn coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you have an eating disorder, which can be connected to emotional eating.

Conclusion

If emotional eating is getting in the way of your weight loss goals, it might be time to take control and find healthier ways to deal with your emotions.

You are absolutely a person who can take action to practice managing your stress in non food ways. By noticing your patterns, identifying your triggers, and giving yourself time and space, you can choose non-food alternatives to finally put a stop to emotional eating.

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