Stressors are not uncommon in today’s culture—long work hours, difficult co-workers, or relationship struggles, among so many others. Does a tub of ice cream or a bag of chips call your name when you are overcome with anxiety or stress? If this sounds like your life, you may very well be an emotional eater and, if you are, you are all too familiar with the cycle.
Emotional eating is more than just a “binge” on your favorite foods. Emotional eating is when we eat in response to some type of emotional trigger, such as stress, boredom or sadness. This response of eating is an attempt to feel better (manage) the emotions with food. Emotional eating is often thought of as a way to cope with negative feelings, but it is actually inclusive of all emotions, negative and positive.
One huge issue with emotional eating is the after math. I personally struggle with this and have learned to overcome it throughout the years, wanting to break the cycle. Eating in response to emotions has never permanently changed anything for me—it was only temporary, and usually left me feeling worse than I did before. To help stop emotional eating, let’s look at some of the reasons you might be answering the call of Ben & Jerry’s or the local pizza joint all too often.
Boredom in regard to emotional eating comes in several facets. You may be bored of your daily food choices. Sometimes when you are on a diet, you can simply get bored and start to become disenchanted with the measured, bored and blank foods. Soon, it is very easy to lose any pleasure from your meals. This can lead to an emotional response to that boredom by making an impromptu decision to drive thru the nearest McDonalds for a Big Mac. If this sounds like you, try to bring pleasure back into your daily diet. Try a new recipe, or give yourself one—emphasis on one—cheat meal so you do not feel deprived.
The second type of boredom is just that—boredom. You may be sitting around the house in the evening, with nothing to do, making it very easy to reach for your favorite snack or raid the pantry for snacks. The best way to combat this boredom is to keep yourself busy so that your mind is on anything but the food in your kitchen. Now would be a good time to take up a new hobby, or catch up on phone calls, or read a book.
Sometimes emotional eating is triggered by a desire to be loved, comforted, or cared for. Those struggling with emotional eating for this reason may feel as if there is a hole or void in their life that they are trying to fill through food. Looking forward to your favorite dessert, for example, is not, in and of itself, a bad thing; but when that favorite dessert is used over and over to distract your mind from difficult emotions, stressors, or negative feelings, it is a problem. That food has now taken on a negative role in your life.
One of the best ways to break this very unhealthy cycle is to be sure you are nourishing your mind and emotions. As a mother of two (3 year old and 16 year old), I understand how difficult it can be to squeeze in time for yourself. It is a challenge, for sure; but it is so important. Start by scheduling a half hour, but try to work up to an hour, when you can read a book, take a walk, or soak in the tub. Do something for you to care for yourself in a healthier way, then turning to the refrigerator or pantry for comfort.
Identify those foods that you tend to gravitate toward during these emotional or stressful times. Once identified, think about why those foods in particular may (a) be your choice, and (b) provide you with whatever comfort or feelings you seek during those emotional or stressful moments. By identifying these trigger foods you can work toward not relying on them in times when what really needs fed is your mind, soul or spirit—not your physical body.
Finally, never underestimate the benefits of talking with someone about what issues are causing stress, or difficult emotions. This can be a terrific outlet for those emotions, instead of reaching for a box of cookies or bag of chips. Let others offer support to you instead of food.
Too Busy and Going Too Fast
Day-to-day schedules get busy. Life moves fast. As part of this, it is very easy to jump from one thing to another, trying to check them off your list. Often, food tends to become one of these items you check off. No longer finding the time to sit down and mindfully enjoy your meal, you have started to rely on the convenience of fast foods bought at the nearest drive thru. Not only does this take away from the pleasure of eating, but it makes it even easier and more likely to choose unhealthy foods.
To end this cycle, try to set time aside for meals and plan on sitting down for the meal—at a table—not in front of the television. This is not only a wonderful time to catch up with family or friends, but also offers the opportunity for you to be more mindful about what you eat.
While on the topic of mindful eating, be sure to eat slowly. Eating slower allows you to actually taste the food and savor its flavors. Eating should be a far more conscious time than many of us allow it to be. This may help you avoid grabbing for a bag of chips while watching a movie, or your favorite television show. Make mealtime more structured and more of an event, as opposed to 3 minutes of quickly stuffing a sandwich down your mouth so you can run out the door to stay on schedule.