Emotional eating is our modern societies main disease. Impulsive and increase food intake is the poor response we found to cope with our negative emotions. It is a desperate emotional attempt to minimize, regulate and prevent emotional distress rather than fill our stomach. Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about! When our first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted, or bored—we get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
A study conducted by Bennett et al. found that emotional eating most often does not reduce emotional distress but instead enhances emotional distress by sparking feelings of intense guilt after an emotional eating session. And as a result we end up increasing the risk of developing other eating disorders, like bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
What is very important to understand is that emotional hunger cannot and will never be filled with food. Eating may feel good but the emotional triggers will not disappear. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed. You feel guilty for messing up and not having more willpower. Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.
So is the situation helpless? Certainly it is not! Because you can take back control over the power you granted to your emotions and to which you surrendered.
- Set True Intention and Practice Compassion
It takes one true intention to kick-start the reverse process and find the right diet balance for yourself. Finding the right balance is about really caring for yourself, for your emotional and physical health, making this goal a priority that will fuel your motivation throughout this diet journey. It is having a vision of you want to be and not compromising on it.
But one must keep this in mind, that whatever plan you have put to yourself to catch back on your diet, it will succeed only if you allow yourself to fail from time to time! Because you will fail and THAT IS OK. Not need to drown into never ending and harmful feeling of guilt. You will need to be patient! Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.
- Acknowledge you are going through emotional distress and understand the root causes
When you know what kick start your cravings and make you lose control over yourself, you know who your enemy is and you can define a proper strategy! Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.
Whether it is stress, stuffing emotions, feeling of loneliness or boredom, childhood habits or social influences, these are all emotional triggers that can lead to emotional hunger. I concede that allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. Being mindful will help you achieve that and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. After a while, if you keep on being focused on your main objective that your highest good, you will find your way through your emotional problems and by consequence get rid of emotional eating patterns.
- Find another ways to feed your emotions
That’s the fun part because it calls out for your creativity in trying to manage your emotions! Because that is the key, when you will know how to manage these emotions you will not be at the mercy of your food craving anymore.
Identify what are your main passions, what makes you happy, what you really like to do whether it is a sport activity (the best option possible!), spending quality time with friends you like (not the ones who will trigger more your emotional distresses!), reading a good book, go for a hike discovering healing mother nature or party! Any of theses activities you decide work for you will be a potential alternative to food and that you can turn into emotional fulfillment.
- Practice Mindful Eating
Why Mindful eating? Because it will help you develop your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between your triggers and your actions. And that is the tipping point, because only then you can change the emotional habits that have sabotaged your diet in the past.
In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food, as you buy, prepare, serve and consume it. In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Dr. Lillian Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest several practices that can help you get there, including those listed below:
- When shopping choose foods that give you both enjoyment and nourishment. Basically avoid all kind of processed foods, comfort food and focus on organics buy. Take away temptation!
- Don’t skip meals and come to the table with appetite and pleasure rather than hunger. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat, and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
- Start with small to medium portions
- Appreciate your food and enjoy the whole eating process and feel grateful for it.
- Eat with attention, focus on the meal and every single details of it.
- Take moderate bites, chew thoroughly and try to eat slowly!
Are you and emotional eater?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?