Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

The most important advice I can give to anyone who wants to lose weight and keep it off is to learn to deal with emotional(comfort) eating.

Everyone has heard the phrase emotional eating but unless you have a clear understanding what this term means you may easily face a lifetime of yo-yo dieting.

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better. You are using food to satisfy emotional needs rather than satisfy physical hunger.  Emotional hunger cannot be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment but the feelings that triggered your eating will still be there. And then comes the guilt as you often feel worse than you did before because of the all the extra calories you have eaten.

Occasionally using food as a reward or to celebrate is not necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse to turn to food whenever stressed, upset, angry, tired, bored or lonely you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

However powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

Are you still wondering if you are an emotional eater?

You need to be totally honest with yourself.  Can you truly say you are always hungry when you eat? Or, like most of us, do you sometimes use food as a comfort or distraction when you are anxious, angry or upset?

Do you sometimes get so stressed you do not realise you are eating and working at the same time? Do you find yourself settling down for a long phone chat with a loved one or close friend and pick at crisps, chocolate or biscuits? It is so easy to slip into this comfortable behaviour and later realise just how much extra calories you have consumed.

Most people at some time or other have been an emotional eater. It is easy to think of emotional eaters as people dealing with stress, anger or disappointment but let’s not forget happiness is also an emotion too.

I was guilty of using happy occasions such as birthdays to really take the brakes off of my eating. I would easily consume an extra 5,000-10.000 extra calories at birthday celebrations by going extremely extra large with my takeaway orders. I was certainly not eating because I was physically hungry. I simply continued to eat regardless of the sheer amount of food set before me.

Turning to food to celebrate occasionally to forget your troubles does not mean you have a problem but letting your emotions regularly dictate what, when and how much you eat is a cause for concern.

Gain control over emotional overeating

If emotional eating is a problem for you, you must figure out which emotions trigger you to eat.

I found it crucial to keep a food and mood journal. I would write down the time of day I ate, exactly what I ate, how I felt eating, did I keep eating when I was full and how I felt after eating.

A typical entry may read. 9:30 p.m. Ate four leftover sausages from the fridge and a piece of French bread. Felt really low as my favourite football team had just lost an important game. Not in the slightest hungry but wanted to feel better. My entry for afterwards may read: Feeling guilty and should have just gone up to bed.

By tracking your emotions and your eating you will help uncover what types of feelings tend to drive you towards food and what foods you are likely to eat as a result.

It was only later that I learned some distraction techniques to cope with negative feelings – in the above case the disappointment of my favourite football team getting beaten.   Now instead of turning to foods to quell these uncomfortable emotions I may take the dog for a brisk walk, run myself a luxurious bath and light some calming candles. I will also play soothing music and look forward to reading the book I have at my bedside.

Before you eat

It used to be customary to work up an appetite with hard physical graft. However nowadays with all our labouring saving devices people live a far less active lifestyle. I try to earn my food by working up an appetite. I may blitz the house by vacuuming both up and downstairs, cutting the grass in the back garden or taking the dog for a walk.  I also have an exercise cycle, a mini version for arm rotations too and various exercise stretch bands.  I have also been known to repeatedly walk up and down our staircase while listening to power ballads.

Any form of physical activity that lasts 20 minutes will build up an appetite and give you the feeling of having earned your meal.

I also find it helpful to ask myself if I am genuinely hungry before eating? Does my stomach feel empty? Is my stomach giving out strange gurgling noises? I will also drink a large glass of water because it is all too easy to mix up being thirsty with being hungry.

Pay attention to the types of food you are tempted to eat as this will tell you whether you are physically hungry or struggling with uncomfortable emotions. If after a blazing row you turn towards ice cream or chocolate you can be certain this is classic emotional eating.

Your personal comfort foods will depend largely on what you were given as a child as a means of making you feel better. Sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and ice cream are typical examples of treats given to us when we needed comforting.

Likewise, when we feel uncomfortable emotions such as stress, anger, loneliness, disappointment or even boredom we turn towards those foods in an attempt to make us feel better about the situation.

Unfortunately, my comfort eating revolved around savoury items, fried food and fizzy drinks as these were what I was often given throughout my formative years.

Mindful eating

I now appreciate and respect the power emotional eating once held over me. So much so that I now practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is simply a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits.

It is all too easy to become so distracted by your television, laptop or by checking your phone when eating that your food has disappeared off the plate before you know it.  Have you ever eaten a meal and struggled to remember later what food you had actually eaten?

Eating often becomes a mindless act and this is a problem because it can take up to twenty minutes to realise you are full. By wolfing down your food the feeling of being satisfied may not register until you have eaten way too many calories.  By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.