Nearly everyone has experienced a time in their life, whether it was as a child or as an adult, when food stopped being about hunger, taste, and enjoyment.
Instead, eating became a reward, maybe something to control or a way to find comfort.
Simple experiences like having rules about eating sweet foods at home turned these foods into something more than desirable. Eating these foods became an act of rebellion—no one is going to stop me!—or not eating them became a way to feel in control.
For others, emotional eating can begin during high stress periods of life. Elevated stress at work, school, or at home can drive our cortisol levels up often leaving us feeling depleted and searching for energy. Increased and sustained levels of cortisol induced during the day have been directly linked to greater calorie consumption when compared to a normal day. So we find ourselves craving carbohydrates or high-fat foods to replenish the body’s energy stores and feed our brain’s endorphins.
Instead of having a couple of cookies or crackers, suddenly our hand is at the bottom of the box.
Emotional eating isn’t something to feel bad or ashamed of, but it is something to become mindful of. If we continue eating to fill a void, it will take a toll on our body and if prolonged can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety and other health issues.
Here are five steps to transition yourself from emotional eating to mindful eating:
1. Recognize when it’s happening. Notice if there are times when you feel sad, depressed or anxious and you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry. Or do you ever find yourself snacking or heading to the fridge when you’re bored or alone? If you have a deadline, something very important or difficult to do, do you find yourself not being able to resist eating even though you’re not physically hungry?
2. Determine the cause. The next time you find yourself uncontrollably eating without feeling hungry or at the bottom of a box of crackers check in with yourself to see if you are stressed, sad or worried about something.
3. Find other ways to honor your emotions. Reduce your stress levels by taking a walk, exercising or practicing meditation and allow yourself to fully express your emotions by writing in a journal or writing a letter to yourself or others without sending.
4. Enjoy your food. Eat slowly. Savor the food, pay attention and eat with fewer distractions (i.e. not in the car or while watching TV).
5. Practice mindfulness while you’re eating. Ask yourself these questions when you are eating: Am I hungry? Does it taste good? Is it the taste that I am craving? Am I enjoying it? Am I still hungry?
Utilizing these five steps will help you to recognize your body’s natural cues for eating and help you to identify other coping mechanisms for your emotions.
Be compassionate with yourself through this process, it takes practice. With time you will become more attuned to what your body actually wants and needs. In the process you will give up the guilt around eating, be happier, more energetic and enjoy your food!
Epel, E., Lapidus, R., McEwen, B., Brownell, K. (2001) Stress may add bite to appetite in moment: a laboratory study of stress induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 25:1, 37-49.
Author: Marisa Molina/Hannah Marie Mills
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Image: Author’s Own
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