More than 80 percent of my incoming clients say they struggle with emotional eating.
And that was before COVID.
You see we don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger.
We eat to satisfy our appetites but also to soothe emotions, celebrate victories, satisfy cultural expectations — and because it just tastes good.
Emotionally eating is an attempt to control a situation that may feel uncontrollable and/or to feel less anxious, or stressed or overwhelmed.
But it’s only a temporary escape: when you emotionally eat you’re using food to solve a problem. Only it’s a problem that food can’t solve.
And to add to the above challenges – many women who experience emotional eating feel trapped and guilty afterward, which just perpetuates the behaviour.
A recent survey showed that over 90% of Australian women who struggle with their weight comfort eat and/or eat emotionally with stress and low self-esteem being the major triggers.
There are several warning signs that your emotional eating or stress eating is getting out of hand.
If you tick at least three of the following, chances are that you’re regularly struggling with emotional eating.
- Your “eat to zone out” habit is escalating into something more serious that you feel you can’t easily control
- You find yourself eating when you’re not hungry
- You use food as a source of comfort when you’re feeling sad, anxious, or bored
- You feel guilty or speak negatively to yourself after eating for comfort (to soothe emotions)
- You have struggled with this pattern for at least 12 months
- You are finding it difficult to get on top of things.
If this is you, I want to let you know that you are not alone!
You can absolutely stop emotional eating and start feeling in control!!
If you are looking for HOW to break the emotional eating cycle I would like to share three strategies that might help you.
Step 1 – Check in With Yourself.
You don’t have to turn to food every time you feel like eating, instead you could try being curious.
It’s possible to become more interested in what’s going on under the surface.
And it helps to go deep and find those feelings that you have been glazing over and stuffing down.
I call this a “learner mindset.” When we’re faced with a situation we don’t know how to handle, we can start asking questions. If you deliberately adopt a learner mindset, a challenging situation can become a chance to learn or experience something new.
Curiosity expands your problem-solving options — and often resolves issues more quickly and easily.
Asking yourself these questions can help you shift into curiosity mode:
- What’s really happening here?
- What else might be going on that I’m not seeing?
- What’s interesting about this situation?
When you start asking yourself questions you’ll get better at identifying where to focus your energy for best results.
Writing it down may help you make a connection you hadn’t noticed before:
- Noting your feelings when the craving strikes
- Time of the day when it happens
- The environment it happens in
Step 2 – Understand your hunger.
Emotional or mindless eating desires frequently coincide with real bodily hunger.
To understand your “hunger” cues it’s helpful to decipher between being physically or emotionally hungry by paying attention to your hunger signals.
Emotional hunger is not satiated by food. The triggers that initiated the eating behaviour remain unresolved and may be further compounded by guilt, remorse and feeling of powerlessness.
There are several distinct traits of emotional hunger which include:
- Rapid onset of hunger – the urge to eat occurs suddenly and without warning
- Craving for specific foods
- The hunger is not satisfied once you are feeling full
- The hunger comes from the head, rather than physical signs like growling stomach
- The eating is mindless and lacks awareness of the type or volume of food being consumed
- Emotional eating often leads to feelings of guilt, regret, lack of power or shame.
Click here to read how to identify the difference between Emotional and Physical Hunger.
Step 3 – Pick an activity before deciding to eat.
Pausing and doing another activity can be helpful at disrupting the trigger/behaviour cycle of emotional eating.
You may like to make a list of activities and hang up this list somewhere visible like the fridge.
Make sure that the activities on your list feel doable and feel enticing and fun to you.
For example, before deciding to eat you could:
- Take four deep breaths
- Drink a big glass of water
- Journal about how you are your feeling
- Play with your pet for five minutes (this one is my favourite!)
- Do some quick stretches
- Listen to a favourite song and dance around
- Go for a short walk
- Spend a few minutes on housework (like folding your clothes or organizing your desk)
Lastly reflect on your experience.
After trying these steps, it can be helpful to reflect on your experience and how it went.
Any strategies require repetition and practise in effort to enhance sustained behaviour change. After that, you can begin consistently engaging in those actions throughout the day.
This is how you make progress!