8 techniques to manage emotional eating
You know the movie. The one where the girl is sitting in her room crying with a box of tissues and a large box of chocolates by her side as she reminisces about her broken relationship.
You know the feeling. The feeling of frustration and stress after a busy day at work leading you to indulge in a tub of creamy gelato.
You know the moment. The moment where you reward yourself for sticking to your healthy diet and fitness routine the whole week and treat yourself to a helping, or two, or three of chocolate cake.
When do we eat? We eat when we’re hungry.
We also eat when our appetite is triggered by a waft of freshly baked muffins. As well as when we are sad, angry, bored, stressed or happy. In this case, we are responding to what I like to call our emotional appetite.
We expect a lot from our food these days. Health, glowing skin, immunity, happiness, strong bones, comfort and more. We expect food to bring us excitement when we’re feeling bored and joy when we’re feeling down. Food is our emotional support system and saviour. Eating for emotional reasons rather than because we’re feeling physically hungry is a behaviour that’s becoming more and more common.
Foods that satisfy our emotional appetite are generally foods high in sugar and fat with little nutrition. Let’s be honest, the last time you felt like passing time by eating, your cravings were more on the pizza, chips, chocolate side as opposed to broccoli and brussel sprouts. These sorts of foods may give immediate satisfaction, however soon afterwards we tend to feel sluggish, uncomfortable and guilty. We feel like we’ve failed, which makes us feel stressed.
Stress is one of the most significant triggers of our emotional appetite. To help us feel better, we indulge in foods and expect them to give us immediate comfort. However, when our bodies are in a stressed state, they’re not focused on digestion. This leads to more discomfort, guilt and failure; you’re beginning to see the cycle. Let’s break this cycle!
Following your emotional appetite as opposed to listening to your physical hunger is something you can regain control over! Here are 8 ways to cope with emotional eating:
Be aware: Sometimes we may not even be aware that we are fuelling our emotional appetite. Look out for clues such as munching on a snack when bored, rewarding yourself with a decadent treat after going to the gym or consuming a whole box of biscuits after a stressful day. The next time you get a craving for something, think if it is related to how you are feeling in that moment. If it is, chances are your emotions are taking over.
Portion distortion: Having the odd indulgence now and then is part of a healthy lifestyle! The key is to make sure you don’t go overboard. Fuelling our emotional appetite often leads to the whole slab of chocolate eaten in one go as opposed to 1 or 2 squares. Fuelling our emotions doesn’t only mean through decadent indulgences. Having a large helping at mealtime plus another 2, 3 or 4 serves is a sign that you need to slow down and become more in tune with your body. Are you really hungry, or is there an emotional trigger telling you to keep eating? Gain control by being more mindful about how you are feeling in that moment.
Feeling good: Emotional eating is not limited to feelings of sadness, anger, stress and anxiety. We can also fuel our emotional appetite when we’re feeling proud, happy or excited. Food is part of happy moments and happy feelings. We celebrate engagements with champagne and birthdays with cake. We also tend to reward ourselves with food after doing something noble or if we’ve achieved a goal. Instead, focus on treating yourself to things unrelated to food such as a bubble bath, a good book, a walk by the beach, yoga or music. Find other ways to reward or treat yourself that don’t have to do with food.
Write it down: If you’re feeling a wave of emotions, rather than keeping them locked inside, write them down. Keep a journal and write down how you’re feeling and why you might be feeling this way. Eating to fuel your emotional appetite means there is an underlying emotion(s) causing you to feast. Once you’re mindful and aware about your feelings, you’re able to gain more control.
Talk it out: Feeling overwhelmed by your emotions? Talk to someone about it. Rather than temporarily feeling better by treating yourself to the contents of your fridge, talking to someone about how you’re feeling can help you find a more long-term solution to your problem. Talk to your mum, brother, cousin or best friend. Talk to a professional. There are many people out there to help with difficult times and overwhelming situations. Don’t let food become the Band-Aid. Keep reminding yourself that you are in control of what you eat!
Deep breathing: Feeling stressed? Deep belly breathing is a wonderful technique to help bring your body out of its stressed state and into a more relaxed one. Take a deep breath through your nose and hold for 5 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times. This is an excellent technique to help bring you back into a more relaxed state.
Sweat it out: Eating often makes us feel happy and comforted. Who doesn’t want to feel like this?! Good to know, there are other ways to get this wave of happiness unrelated to food such as by exercising. When we exercise, we release endorphins, known as the ‘feel good’ hormone; triggering feelings of positivity and happiness in our body. You don’t need to partake in anything strenuous either, a light walk outside is enough to trigger the happy hormone!
Don’t skip meals: After overindulging and satisfying emotional cravings, it seems logical to compensate by skipping the next meal, right? WRONG! Skipping meals can play havoc with blood sugar levels which means you’re more likely to overeat and binge the next time you allow yourself to eat. Remember, our bodies are very clever machines. They can handle the odd indulgence now and then! If you go overboard, don’t skip your next meal. Go back to your regular eating habits. An overindulgence now and then is not going to out-way a lifetime of healthy habits.
All these strategies take time and practice. Emotional eating is something that takes time to become a habit. Be patient and eventually these techniques will become new habits. By utilising these tips rather than visiting the kitchen next time you feel a rush of emotions, you are one step closer to regaining control over your emotions and health!