I don’t think it would be wrong to assume everyone has battled with emotional eating at some point in their life. I have had a lot of ups and downs in my relationship with food and while I’m in a good place, emotional eating is still something I struggle with occasionally.
A while back I realised if I’ve had a bad day at work or feeling particularly lonely, I reached for the evening chocolate bar or bowl of ice cream to try and fill the empty void. This was happening daily and I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t curl up on the sofa with a post-dinner snack.
Having awareness of emotional eating from stress, fear and anxiety can be challenging. It took an extended amount of time for me to realise I was doing more harm than good to myself.
Food habits often build up over some time which makes it difficult to break out of the cycle. The realisation that it only makes you feel worse in the long run sometimes isn’t enough to drive change or prevent you from repeating the habit time and time again. Giving and receiving advice from others is also tricky. More often than not it’s something you have to realise for yourself.
Having worked hard to build a healthy routine for me, I felt this was the final piece of the puzzle that I needed to harness control over. I began my journey to research the underlying causes of emotional eating and potential triggers. Knowing when it goes from being harmless into a recurring pattern of behaviour is important to recognise.
It’s worth noting that emotional and physical hunger is different. Emotional hunger leaves you craving sugary, processed food but if you are physically hungry you will eat just about anything. If you pay close attention to your body, you’ll notice the hunger you are experiencing isn’t contained in the stomach. But a voice in your mind alerting you to the need for food. A strong force that is relentless in its efforts and commands your full attention. Our minds can become our enemies if we are not careful. When this happens its crucial to regain control and remember you are in the driving seat.
There are a number of reasons you could be dealing with emotional eating some of which are below:
The whole world is going through an extended time being at home and with ourselves. Using food as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, uncertainty, and boredom at this time is extremely common. It takes less than a minute for most of us to go and raid the cupboards for a quick snack. Having more time to let our minds wander to when the next meal or snack is approaching because there seems to be little else to fill up our time with.
General Health and Wellbeing
There are several other factors to consider why you might be overindulging. Overeating can often stem from worry, depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and who you spend time with. Overall, do you feel generally happy in your life or are there demons that seem to crop up repeatedly? Are you eating nutrient-dense meals that are keeping you full or do you find the need to be constantly grazing?
Identifying what it is that caused you to turn to food and finding something to replace it with can be highly effective.
Tips to help with emotional eating:
- Find distractions that work for you. Take a bath, go for a long walk, meditate listen to a podcast. If you can busy yourself with something productive you are doubling up on your strength and willpower.
- Keep a food diary to track eating habits and be honest with yourself with everything that you consume. This is most helpful to see where you could be veering off track.
- Write a list when shopping for groceries and try to go on a full stomach. That way you are likely to have better self-control and are only buying the essentials.
- Plan out your meals in advance. Try cooking more fresh foods and have healthy snacks at your disposal.
- Remove any guilt. Don’t label things as “bad, junk or treat”. Simply as food enjoyed as part of a heathy lifestyle. You’re giving your body what it needs to function at its best. Remembering that you choose this lifestyle because you have deep love and self-respect for youself.
- Don’t exclude certain foods entirely from your diet as that could eventually lead to binge eating/relapse.
- If you find yourself slipping back being aware of that and trying again. It’s a process and unlikely to be completely smooth sailing but have confidence in your own power.
If you think this is something you can’t manage alone seek the help of a medical professional such as your doctor nutritionist or therapist. Food issues are a sensitive topic, but I think it’s important to keep discussions open with our friends and family. In doing so we realise they are far more common than we initially imagined.