How To Stop Emotional Eating
When people try to lose weight or improve their health, usually their first go-to approach is to diet. To restrict what they eat. But the most common outcome from dieting in the long run is actually weight gain. Diets don’t work the vast majority of the time, and one of the main reasons for this is that people are eating for reasons other than for hunger.
Why We're Overeating Or Undereating
Your body has an inherent ability to regulate your eating based on what nutrients your body needs, it helps you regulate this with hunger and fullness cues, and craving foods that include the nutrients you need to be healthy. Intuitive eating helps people let go of a diet mentality, develop a positive relationship with food, body and self and reject diet culture and rigid external rules about good foods or bad foods. Intuitive eating has been shown to help people recover from disordered eating and reach a healthier BMI.
But most of the time, when we’re overeating, or under-eating, it’s because we’re seeking to regulate our emotions with food, instead of regulating our emotions by processing them.
Explore What's Under Emotional Eating
So the first step is to ask yourself “Why am I eating this? You don’t need to judge yourself for doing it, just get curious. If I’m eating and it’s not because of hunger, what am I feeling?
Let me give you a few examples.
- If you’re feeling bored, restless, or aimless you may seek an exciting, flavorful or novel food as a way to regulate that boredom. To replace it with novelty. Have You ever struggled through writing a research paper? Bring on the crunchy snacks. Feeling aimless in life? Let’s check out the exciting new restaurant.
- If you’re feeling sadness or pain, you may seek to feel happy through pleasurable foods- check out how many food advertisements have “Happy” as their emotion word- happy meal, coca cola ads, etc.
- Food and feasting has long been a way for people to connect, to gather, to share a meal and conversation. So if you’re feeling lonely, you may reach for food as a way to trigger those feelings of connection.
- If you’re feeling numb, empty or depleted, you may seek food to feel full or to feel anything at all.
- If you’re feeling tired, you may eat to get a burst of energy. But eating sugary or carby snacks may leave you on a blood sugar roller coaster. Being tired is actually one of the biggest contributors to overeating.
- If you’re feeling angry, you may eat quickly, or you may eat crunchy, spicy or otherwise intense foods to express that anger. Or you may suppress it with something tasty.
- Food has long been used to soothe grief. In Utah we have a potato casserole, full of delicious cheeses, cream cheese, cornflakes, salt and butter, that we call “Funeral Potatoes” because it’s always at Mormon funerals, and it’s delicious and comforting.
How to Stop Emotional Eating - What to do instead:
So if you find yourself eating for emotional reasons, what do you do? Does that mean you can’t eat comfort food at funerals? Or eat snacks with your friends when you’re lonely? Of course you can still eat for other reasons than just hunger, the goal instead of just “Stop that ” is to just bring awareness to what you’re eating and why. That’s the cool thing about emotions, a lot of time they just need to be validated. So if you’re feeling super angry and catch yourself reaching for a bag of pretzels, just pause for a moment, check in with your body and see why you’re grabbing those pretzels.
#1. Notice and name the emotions. Sometimes that’s enough.
#2. But the second step is to solve emotional problems with emotional solutions.
- If you’re bored, you could eat something exciting, and that’s ok, you can give yourself permission to eat. Usually just restricting eating isn’t going to solve your problems. But just acknowledge that eating won’t really resolve boredom for you in the long run. If you take a moment to notice that you’re feeling bored, sit with it for a second, and then consider what might make your life more interesting or exciting or purposeful, you make make the time for an activity that will be much more fulfilling- like playing pickleball with friends, starting a new hobby, or doing some service at the local food bank.
- So for example, if you’re lonely- reach out for a friend, not just the ice cream.
- If you’re tired- consider going to bed early that night
- If you’re sad- look for some good you can do in the world. Or just acknowledge the sadness. You could talk with a friend about it or journal about your feelings.
- If you’re feeling stressed, do some relaxation exercises or set some boundaries at work. Take some action to resolve the stress instead of just covering it up with another feeling.
You can learn to replace emotional eating with emotion processing
Now to be fair, working through emotions is not just a one-step process, it takes time, energy and effort. But you can learn the skills to do it. If you want to take a much more in-depth approach to learning how to create emotional solution for emotional problems- check out my How to Process Emotions course.
When you make space for your feelings, and your physical sensations, you can develop a healthier relationship with food and with your body. And you’ll not only improve your physical health, but you’ll also improve your emotional health. I hope this helps you get better at feeling, thanks for watching and take care.