I’m a classic emotional eater.
I eat when I’m happy, I eat when I’m sad, I eat when I’m mad and everything in between. When I have emotions, I eat.
Unfortunately, stress only increases my appetite. I’ve always envied those women who lose weight when they’re upset.
I just grab a pint of ice cream and go to town with the mindset that, well, everything in my life sucks, but this mint chip sure doesn’t.
Emotional eating isn’t truly nourishing our bodies. It’s a bad habit that can lead to weight gain and health problems. In some people, emotional eating can spiral into binge eating disorder, which is a serious condition.
Besides the physical consequences, when we eat our feelings, we don’t learn to face them and deal with them in a healthy way. Like people who compulsively drink, shop, or abuse drugs, emotional eaters are usually trying to numb themselves. In my case, I most often use food as a substitute when I feel unfulfilled in some other area of my life.
When I finally realized my own pattern of emotional eating (and unwanted weight gain), I set out to identify the root causes of my problem and then to mindfully work on better understanding myself and breaking my attachment to food and feelings.
Here are my tips for dealing with emotional eating:
Exercise—lots of it
I know. I’m not one of those people who will ever love vigorous exercise. I’m simply not wired that way. However, I’ve come to understand and accept that I am like a human border collie, and that if I don’t run around and work off my anxiety that I will chew through the drywall. When I find myself jittery with my mind racing, I know I need to go on a brisk walk. This usually helps me get rid of excess energy and by the time I finish, I no longer want to plow through a bag of tortilla chips.
The hip-openers especially. I love the yin poses the most and a whole yin class is a big treat for me (even though it can be really hard). Holding the positions for a longer period and really stretching my connective tissues helps release built up, negative emotions that lead to overeating.
Avoid Trigger Foods
They’re different for everyone. My trigger food is buttery, cheesy pasta. Even writing about it makes me want a huge bowl of macaroni, but I know I have to avoid it like the plague because even one bite will set me off and I won’t be able to stop. For some people it’s bread, chocolate, dairy foods or candy. Whatever your trigger food is, stay away from it, don’t buy it, and don’t let it in your house.
Give Yourself Non-Food Rewards as Treats.
Eat Tons of Veggies and Proteins
I’ve found, mostly through trial and error, that the more protein and vegetables I eat, the less inclined I am to mindlessly snack on junk. My theory is that the protein levels out my blood sugar (which also helps me regulate my emotions) and the veggies fill me up so I’m not even thinking about food. Besides that, a body that receives adequate nutrients has no need for cravings. Include veggies in every single meal and snack. One way I find it’s easy for me to consume a large amount of vegetables is by making big pots of soup.
Although I try to live mindfully, I’m not good at meditating. Like a lot of people in our western culture, I’m Type A and high strung and I’m a workaholic. That means I especially need meditation. When meditation is difficult and when I’ve had the most trouble quieting my mind, I’ve had the best luck listening to Tara Brach’s free, guided meditations. Sometimes I even listen to them while driving.
Without the phone. Basically, I think this is the cure for just about everything. Go spend a good amount of time out in nature. Breathe fresh air. Let the sun shine on your bare skin. Listen to the rustle of the wind in the trees. Watch the birds and squirrels.
I know, everyone says this. It really helps. Take it from a chronically dehydrated water-hater, though. Believe me, I’d rather drink coffee all day. What has helped me want to drink more water is giving it some flavor.
I now make “spa water” whenever I can. Mostly the name just helps it sound fancier and more appealing. Add citrus, sliced cucumbers, apples and fresh mint leaves to water in a pretty pitcher and refrigerate. One tip I’ve learned is that when making infused waters, they taste better when the citrus is peeled. I still drink coffee as a treat, but since it’s a trigger food for me, I’ve been trying to sub out iced mint green tea instead.
Call a Loved One
If I’m feeling extremely emotional, instead of turning to chocolate cake, I’ve been trying to call a good friend first. Hearing a kind voice helps me feel connected to my support system. Speaking with someone I love voids loneliness and makes me happy, and hey, sometimes we all need someone to talk us off the ledge. It’s okay to be vulnerable and to say “I feel sad and nervous and I’d really like to order a pizza and eat the entire thing right now!” Venting is good. Laughing at ourselves is even better. Genuinely connecting with other human beings is the best.
Dig Deep and Find the Root Cause
Emotional eating is a symptom and to get rid of the symptom we need to discover the cause. What is lacking? What feelings are we trying to squash? When did this pattern begin? What hole are we trying to fill with food? Meditation, therapy, journaling and serious introspection can help us figure out what’s really going on—be it an unhappy relationship, wanting to move, low self-esteem, losing a job, the loss of a loved one or a number of other possibilities.
Once we find the cause, we can begin to plan a healing process and eventually the symptoms will disappear.
Author: Victoria Fedden
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Thomas Abbs/Flickr