Emotional eating is something many of us do. It becomes a problem if it becomes too much of a regular habit.
You’ve had a stressful day, or an emotionally challenging time, or feel drained and tired with your emotions all over the place…. You reach for a chocolate bar, a cake or big bag of crisps or another food that you believe gives you comfort or helps distract or calm your nerves. Afternoon tea breaks at work, at home in front of the television at night following a hard day, emotional eating is us reaching for food to cope and deal with our emotions. When we know we are doing it, we usually also know that emotional eating is not good for us, but many can’t seem to break the pattern and stop. We use emotional eating to relieve tension, manage stress or avoid feeling negative emotions. Triggers range from stress, anxiety, loneliness, anger, fear or boredom. Emotional eaters usually try and soothe themselves with food—often with junk food or excess food that they derive ‘comfort’ from — in order to avoid facing uncomfortable feelings.
“The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen.
Several research studies have shown that trauma is a risk factor for eating disorders and other pathological eating behaviours. While the relationship between abuse and eating is complex and can vary from person to person, research suggests that emotional eaters may turn to food to relieve feelings of shame or to punish themselves, as some may have falsely held beliefs about the trauma that they experienced. Some researchers have theorised that abuse survivors may purposely gain or lose a great deal of weight as a form of protection (i.e. they believe it will make them less attractive and therefore, less likely to be taken advantage of), or as a reflection of their shattered self-image. It does not have to have such a serious cause though…..
Typically, we are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is one explanation as to why many people reach for comfort food to deal with negative emotions, as we see in many TV shows when the tub of ice cream comes out after a relationship break-up or losing a job. Recent research conducted by PsychTests reveals the nine main factors that can trigger emotional eating.
Analysing a combination of personality, emotional, and behavioural data from 438 emotional eaters who took the Emotional Eating Test, researchers at PsychTests were able to establish the most common eating triggers which were lack of intimacy, feelings of shame, fear of challenge, fear of judgement, conflict avoidance, boredom, self-sabotaging beliefs, rebellion as well as the previously mentioned abuse of some kind.
When it comes to unhealthy eating patterns, the crux of the issue is not so much what we’re eating, it’s why we’re eating it. Emotional eaters don’t consume junk or excessive comfort food simply because it tastes better than vegetables; they do so because this type of comfort food makes them feel better. They often use food as a means of making their bodies feel different.
Signs you could be an emotional eater:
• Eating when you are not hungry but instead when you’re upset, bored, angry, etc.
• Craving ONLY sugary, fatty foods or carbohydrates (tyical comfort foods, though not exclusively this type of food).
• Eating after you are full or eating things you don’t like.
• Rarely feeling satiated.
• Mindless or unconscious eating; eating and not even being aware of it.
If you recognise yourself in some or most of these descriptions, you may be an emotional eater. Here are some ways to help change combat this behavior and to start changing your emotional eating habits:
1. Write It Down:
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Maya Angelou.
One of the best ways to identify if you’re emotionally eating is to keep a food diary and track your behaviours around food. You may find you engage in mindless eating when you feel stressed about a deadline or perhaps you reach for salty snacks whenever you’re anxious about an upcoming event; either way you are exhibiting a negative behavioural pattern with food. Writing down what you reach for and when can help you identify triggers and bring you one step closer to changing your patterns. Whenever you track something, it means you create an internal environment of self-awareness too.
With many of my therapy clients, I ask them to write down beside the food that they eat whether the food was satisfying them physically or emotionally/psychologically. They can then start to recognise when they are most likely eating for emotional reasons or comfort. I also often recommend that prior to eating and writing it down in your food diary, that they consider writing down on a scale of 0-10 how hungry they actually are, and that they consider only eating if they feel 7 or above (for example) on that hunger scale and thus they start to tune in to the accuracy of their hunger and what it means. As an aside, many people can help overcome emotional hunger pangs by having a glass of water, do consider this. Many apps are available today to help chart food intake on your phone or mobile device, it is easier than ever to write down what, when and how you eat.
2. Take Five:
Emotional eaters often report feeling powerless when the urge to eat comes over them. Taking a break and pausing for five minutes allows you a moment to reflect on why you might be reaching for that bag of jelly beans or bar of chocolate. Putting off your eating, even for a few minutes, affords you the opportunity to examine your feelings first to figure out if you are actually hungry and that goes a long way in helping you make better decisions when it comes to food. Crate an attitude of never impulsively eating and only eating when you have reflected accurately upon what you are doing. Take five before you reach for anything. I have even recommended that clients of mine put post-it notes on their fridge or cupboards that says “Take Five” or “What purpose is the food serving at this moment” for example to help them tune in to what is going on around them and within them before they eat, and help reduce impulsivity.
3. Embrace Emotions:
“Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.” – Astrid Alauda.
Emotional eaters often feel powerless with food and eating, but the real problem actually stems from an inability to sit with uncomfortable feelings. You don’t feel you can handle your emotions so you choose to ignore them and focus on food instead. Embracing uncomfortable emotions can help you connect to the real reasons why you are reaching for food when you are experiencing a particular emotion. Doing this can seem scary at first but choosing to examine and embrace your feelings instead of feeding them gets you one step closer to controlling your behaviour. Be aware of and acknowledge your emotions so that you recognise what is creating the behavioural eating habit.
Maybe you have cravings, those cravings may be emotionally fueled (or not) and so here is a great self-hypnosis process to help you overcome those cravings, have a read:
– Using Self-Hypnosis and a Hot Air Balloon To Overcome Food Cravings.
4. Find Alternatives:
Finding better ways to cope can help you combat emotional eating when uncomfortable feelings surface. Finding ways to deal with life that don’t involve food is one of the most important things you can do.
Exercise or just moving your body is a great way to expend nervous energy if you’re feeling anxious. Even putting on some music and dancing around your room for 15 minutes can be enough to help you re-examine what you’re feeling.
Connecting with others is another great coping mechanism to combat emotional eating. If you are feeling depressed or lonely, visit a friend or pick up the phone and call someone who makes you laugh. Spending time with others and forging positive relationships can help protect you from the negative emotions that lead to this type of eating.
You can learn self-hypnosis skills, mindfulness skills and breathing exercises which can all help you in the moment. Here is a great article with breathing techniques that will help you greatly as an alternative to reaching for comfort food:
– 8 Breathing Exercises to Enhance Well-Being.
5. Manage Stress:
“The pause, even simply a breath, taken between hunger and eating, is the first step toward taking control.” – Melissa McCreery.
Stress can be an emotional trigger. Let’s work on managing your stress. Try not to dwell on problems. Things in the past can’t be undone. Just move forward and finish the day on a positive note. If you feel stressed, try doing an activity and drinking water instead of eating. Make sure you take time for yourself to use self-hypnosis or meditate and relax. Here are a few articles that will really help you in this respect, go have a read and use the skills:
6. Extra Help:
Sometimes we can’t do it all alone. Seek professional help if necessary. Hypnotherapy, for example can help to update habits, lower cravings, curb your appetite and put an end to emotional eating in a variety of ways.There are many people out there who can help, you don’t have to go it alone.
Improving your relationship with food can help you feel empowered and improve your outlook on life. Replacing junk food with a tasty, varied and healthy diet can also help negative eating patterns and is as beneficial for your mind as your body.
Have some of themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
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Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book.