Have you been walking to the refrigerator or pantry more often than usual lately?
After a fight with your partner do you find yourself reaching for some ice-cream to cool your emotions down or perhaps you sit on the couch and mindlessly munch through a whole bag of chips after a stressful day?
The fact is during the lockdown a lot of busy women have suffered from stress and emotional exhaustion and have been engaging in comfort eating.
The truth is you are not feeling powerless over comfort eating, you may be feeling powerless over your emotions.
Feeding your feelings
Many busy women are trying to feel some sort of a void they feel and eating when feeling certain emotions can replace the emotional void and create a false sense of emotional “fullness.”
Comfort eaters (emotional eaters) are eaters of emotion.
They have difficulty identifying and communicating their feelings and tend to eat in response to emotions.
This behaviour tends to happen automatically.
Let me spill the beans here – It’s easier to eat rather than talk about feelings or sit still with an uncomfortable feeling.
Finding comfort in food is common, the problem is it often leads to feelings of guilt or shame, leading to a cycle of excess eating and associated issues, like weight gain.
Did you know that according to many studies women are more likely than men to comfort eat when feeling stressed?
Why do we turn to food?
Negative emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void.
Food is believed to be a way to fill that void and create a false feeling of “fullness”or temporary wholeness.
Other factors may include:
- not making time for activities that might otherwise relieve stress, overwhelm sadness, and so on
- not understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger
- using negative self-talking : this can create a cycle of emotional eating.
- increased cortisol levels in response to stress, leading to cravings
Here are five ways to manage your emotions without turning to food and reduce comfort eating.
Step 1 – Understand Your Comfort-Food Connection
Awareness allows you to work out where you are right now, where you would rather be, and the steps to get there.
The first and most important step is to understand your personal comfort -food connection so that you can identify the true source of your emotional eating.
Have you ever questioned your hunger and asked yourself WHY you’re eating?
By asking yourself these questions, you may just identify your motivation .
Keeping a journal can be very helpful in providing a clear picture of when and why you are engaging in comfort eating.
As well as pausing and asking yourself these simple questions, the next time you walk to the refrigerator:
- “Am I really hungry?”
- “What am I really hungry for?”
- “What am I really craving for?”
Step 2 – Reduce and Manage Your Stress Levels
I suggest putting aside some-time to create your list of possible comfort strategies.
If you take time out to care and nurture yourself daily, you will feel better, and experience more happiness and satisfaction….and crave less.
That means creating the time in your day to destress, journal and relax, even if it’s just five to 10 minutes of doing absolutely nothing.
A. Start off by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do I need in those moments when I want to eat?
- What can I have on my list that is within my reach and doesn’t require much energy?
B. Show yourself some love by doing activities you enjoy.
Here are some nurturing-self-care activities to help you manage stress:
- Yoga and meditation
- Journaling (it’s amazing how much better you will feel after you download your thoughts onto paper)
- Take a long soak in the bath and listen to your favourite music
- Finish work early enough to have self-care time
- Connect with friends and go out
- Move your body daily in a way that you find enjoyable
- Get a massage on a regular basis
- Go take a hike-literally
The key is to experiment and find what feels best for you.
You may find this video helpful 3 Tips To Relax Without Food.
Step 3 -Make Intentional Food Decisions
I am taking about making conscious , deliberate decisions on purpose and that means planning ahead of time.
When you make decisions ahead of time you are in control and avoid decision fatigue when it comes to food choices.
Here are some tips:
- Prepare your food yourself, so you can control the ingredients
- Bring your lunches from home: this eliminates having to make decisions when you are hungry
- If you are going out to lunch or dinner, try and plan what you will have before hand and make this decision when you are not hungry
- Have some healthy snacks prepared for when the need for emotional comfort arises
Step 4- Make Mindful Choices
Mindful Eating is all about tuning in to your hunger signals.
Comfort (Emotional ) eaters are unable to differentiate hunger from the physiological state accompanying negative emotions.
As a result, they respond by eating when experiencing negative emotions, whereas normally this would result in loss of appetite since emotions induce physiological changes similar to that of satiety.
It’s therefore important to understand the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to feed your feelings.
Refer to the chart below for some key points to look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
Mindfulness helps you to make better choices in the moment, and identify if you are feeling emotionally or physically hungry.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Eat when you are relaxed
- Try and change your usual environment so it’s less distracting
- Always eat sitting down, and take a moment to think about what your body really needs right now.
Step 5- Feel your Feelings
Your emotional cravings are a window into your inner landscape.
You may be avoiding looking beneath the surface as it feels vulnerable and you may feel exposed. This fear will very quickly disappear as you experience the joy found in knowing yourself.
Feeling your feelings is more much more effective than feeding them.
- Notice when you have the trigger to eat when you are not physically hungry.
- Take a few moments to pause and notice what emotion is coming up for you.
- Name the feeling without judgment.
- Is it stress, overwhelm, boredom or loneliness?
When you are able to name what your feeling is, you are able to work through it.
By looking inward, you will understand what your feelings actually mean and you will find layers of insights as to what is imbalanced in your life.
When you learn to manage your emotions and sit with your feelings you don’t need to feed them.
Watch this video to help you ride the emotional wave of your feelings-How To Use Urge Surfing Technique To Cope With Urges
And lastly what support do you need?
Comfort (emotional) eating may also stem from bigger issues, too. These include chronic stress, long-term anger, depression and other concerns.
If these apply to you, you may benefit from getting some help.
Finding a coach, mentor or counselor can help you discover your emotional eating patterns and the root cause.
- I’d love to know about your favorite steps to reduce comfort eating?
- What works for you?
Let me know in the comments below.
If you’d like some inspiration to chew on instead of whatever’s in your fridge or pantry then grab my book “3 Steps to Consistent Healthy Eating and A Lasting Healthy Life”
➡️ Click here to start your journey to FREEDOM, self-confidence and empowerment.
It’s free. And it might change your life.
Emotional Eating Coach
BSc (Biomed), Cert IV (PT), Wellness Coach (Level 3))
I coach 35+ women to put down their fork and pick up their life. If you want to end your struggles with excess weight, stress and self-belief, using your strengths and capabilities, hit that button above and let’s talk.
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