In a previous blog post I talked about Understanding Emotional Eating. Now that you know the definition it is time to explore what to do to end it. Emotional eating is eating when you are not physically hungry and it is used to calm or push down emotions. Many emotions can trigger emotional eating: sadness, loneliness, boredom, or anger. Some signs that you could be emotionally eating are when you are looking for food after a stressful situation or some triggering event, or you are eating and getting overly full often. In order to determine the emotion, it takes a little detective work. I call it getting curious. Ask yourself, “why am I wanting sugary food when I am not hungry; what could be going on?” Then get silent for a moment and check inside. I like to take a deep breath at that point in time. Then ask yourself, “how am I feeling?” happy, sad, mad, scared, or anxious. Then ask yourself, “What can I do right now to handle this feeling?” Some ideas are:
- Walk around the block. If you are at work, walk to the bathroom. The point is, just move.
- Write a little in a journal that can be in the form of a binder, little tablet in your purse, or on your phone (I have a phone app that lets me write in a journal).
- Talk to a trusted person and let them know how you are feeling.
During this process, I like to tell myself that I can have the food if I really want, but only after I figure out what is going on. Generally, by the time I figure out what I was feeling I am no longer hungry. Those food cravings are really a call to look deeper at what is going on inside of you. When you do not take that opportunity to consider the emotions underneath the food craving, you are reinforcing that overeating is a solution. The problem is that the food is not the solution to your feelings. It does not really solve the issue and can make it worse, because you end up feeling overfull, guilty that you overate, and possibly depriving yourself of food at your next meal.
Emotional eating is actually helpful, because it is a call to check back in with yourself- as long as you use it that way. If you do engage in emotional overeating, just move forward. Check in with yourself to understand what happened and what feeling you were trying to subside and move on. Guilt can be your worst enemy and lead to additional overeating. Be kind to yourself and begin to understand your emotional eating. It can help you put food back in its proper place as nourishment for your body.
Do you have tools that help you end emotional eating? We would love to hear them. Let us know in the comments below.
Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders. If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here. Sign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.