Emotional Eating – Take Control Now
Emotional Eating: A way of soothing or supressing negative emotions such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and lonelinesss through food.
Emotional eating is something that is very personal to you and can bring up feelings that you aren’t expecting when you start thinking about it. That is totally normal and we shouldn’t be embarrased or ashamed about it. If you feel like this blog is hard to read and digest, take it in segments and always make sure someone is there to talk to you about the way you are feeling.
When we talk about nutrition we tend to totally de-personalise it with facts and the knowledge. We don’t go into our own personal feelings about food or how it affects us. We need to talk about it more because we can have all the knowledge of food in the world, but unless we deal with our own demons and our own feelings of food, that will always get in the way.
NOTE: There is a difference between Emotional Eating and just having a little occasional binge. It is only Emotional Eating if negative feelings are involved in it.
Firstly I am going to say this. Have you ever binged on food and then felt embarrassed about what you have done? Have you ever felt disappointed in yourself or like you’ve ruined everything or let yourself down? Or questioned why you can’t stop it? Have you ever felt like you are by yourself and why can everyone else manage their eating better?
Well the truth is, emotional eating is a lot more common than you would imagine. So many people struggle with it, yet we are embarrassed to talk about it. Why?
A little bit about me.
Looking at my lifestyle and nutrition now, I have a very healthy relationship with food and I have found a balance that I love and it works for me. But this hasn’t always been the case. I’ve been through a time of having a very unhealthy relationship with food. I would associate food with my own feelings of self worth and in turn this affected the way I managed my eating on a huge scale. It was a learnt behaviour that I had no control over and at the time I didn’t even realise the damaging affect it was having on me, my mental and physical health.
Anytime I ever experienced feelings which would question my self worth I would indulge in very unhealthy habits. This is something I have done a lot of work on to “fix” the issue. And even though I would consider myself to have a very healthy relationship with food now, that doesn’t mean it isn’t something I have to be conscious of still and know that I formed that habit once and it can happen again. However, the work I did was mainly focusing on identifying triggers, managing my emotions and breaking the habit that I had formed of feeling that emotion and my immediate reaction to it.
I want you to think about this sentence for a second:
The strongest of food cravings hit when you are at your weakest point emotionally.
How true is that. And when we are at our weakest point emotionally, it’s going to be much harder to find that internal strength to say no to the craving or walk away from it. Our mental state is almost setting us up to fail for our physical goals. I am going to go into the science behind this shortly. But for now let’s focus on the why.
Why do YOU binge?
Take a second and think about the moments that you have had episodes of binging.
· What emotions were you feeling before hand?
· What was happening in your life at the time?
· Have you been sleeping well?
· Had you fallen out with someone?
· How was work that day?
· Had you eaten enough during the day?
The reason that I am asking you to think about those questions is simply because if you are eating emotionally, there is a trigger that is starting that process for your brain to crave those foods.
So what is your trigger?
As I have already explained, my trigger is negative feelings or self-worth and feelings of not being good enough. And these feelings have always come from men. So being rejected, being cheated on, not feeling good enough in a relationship – all of these kind of actions/feelings/behaviours. This would trigger me to eat.
If you can’t pin point exactly what your trigger is, don’t try and guess it – it’s important you know why. You could start writing a diary – whether that is a “feelings diary” where you just write about how you feel each day and pop a note by the side if you’ve has a binge. This should also include your monthly cycle for women as there may be a trigger in that as well. Or a food diary where you write down everything you eat (with no shame!) and next to it pop a note of how you were feeling. Keeping a diary is a really good starting place to start recognising any patterns that our occurring with situations in your life and the way you feel about food. The key to this is honesty. If something is upsetting you or making you feel anxious – admit it. Without being honest about how we feel, we can’t get to the bottom of this. As human beings, we are very good at lying to ourselves about how we actually feel about things.
Once you know what your triggers are you can start viewing this as something that is fully controllable. That isn’t to say it is an easy process, but taking the first step to understanding why is vitally important.
The Sciencey Bits
Our bodies are amazing machines and they respond to our emotions without us even realising fully.
When our bodies are stressed, we have a rush of the hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and stimulates “Fight or Flight” It changes how our bodies interact with food including the kinds of foods it craves.
THE STRESS RESPONSE is where cortisol prepares your body to either confront or evade the stressor (fight or flight). And if you think about it, both of these situations require energy. Whether we are getting ready to fight the situation or run away from it, our bodies in that instant requires energy to make that happen. This actuallu causes us to crave energy rich food which are generally carbohydrate heavy – as we know carbs is where we gets our main energy source from.
AND THEN….Because then by eating the food, you’ve given your body what it needs because of the biological reaction – it then rewards your body by flushing your brain with feel good chemicals like dopamine.
So, essentially our bodies are screwing us over.
Ø Me: I’m stressed
Ø Brain: You need sugar
Ø Me: Have Sugar
Ø Brain: Oohhh have some dopamine to feel good.
Me: OMG I FEEL GREAT I LOVE DOUGHNUTS
We don’t think of the science element when things like this happen. All we think is that we felt sad or stressed and we ate a doughnut because that’s what we wanted and once we ate that doughnut we then instantly felt much better. We don’t differentiate between what we think has happened and what has actually happened as a hormonal reaction. And when our bodies have reached “fight or flight” and it is requesting energy, the quickest form of getting that instant energy is by processed foods, so that’s what we think we crave.
Being aware of this and understanding what it is our bodies are asking for can help this process. If you’re stress craving sugar – fruit or home made snacks will give your body what it needs. And you won’t feel guilty about it.
The Mood Food Cycle
We have all seen this happen.
Our mood is low, we feel sad or anxious or scared and we turned to food as an easy way to make us instantly feel better. We get a hit of dopamine, energy levels are increased and we feel good. Shortly after this those sugar levels will spike and we will start feeling low again. It can be such a vicious cycle for some people.
So what can I do?
Keep a Food Diary – if you don’t know triggers
As I have already suggested – this is the most important thing to do if you aren’t sure what your triggers are currently. Keep track of what you are eating, your monthly cycle for women, how you are feeling, how hungry you are and look for patterns.
Once you start jotting down these patterns, it won’t be long before you become aware of these in your day to day life. Understanding your body and becoming aware is the biggest step.
If stress is the emotion that you are feeling when you start to crave food, looking into stress relieving activities in this moment will help. Look into yoga, pilates, meditation, cold water therapy, adult colouring – absolutely anything proven to de stress a situation. Have a plan in place and know what to do when you are in that situation. And remember, the first few times you will probably still crave the food because you’ve formed that habit. But if you continue to change your thought processes when you feel that emotion, over time that will become much easier to manage. You just have to keep going.
Hunger Reality Check
Is your hunger physical or emotional? You can link it back to your calorie intake. If you know you have eaten enough food for that day then you know it’s not physical hunger. Emotional hunger is often combined with feelings of guilt.
Making sure that you are eating enough in the day will help with this as well. Binging in the evenings can happen a lot if we are not eating enough in the day.
If you feel like it is boredom or just a habit you have picked up – distract yourself with a positive activity. It takes 21 days of doing something different to form a new habit. A client of mine recently wanted to start knitting and had mentioned it a few times, so on her plan we decided that in the moments she felt like she was going to binge – she sat down and knitted for 15 mins to change her thought process and try and disconnect that habit with the emotion of stress. Did she manage it everytime? Absolutely not. But she is certainly in a much better place than she was with it and pushing forwards.
Take away temptation
Simple – Don’t keep your comfort foods in the house. You will have to go outside to the shop which will make you consider if you really need it or not. Again, it is that switch in thinking that could stop the habit continuing.
Drink more water
You’ve heard it before – dehydration can cause feelings of hunger. Ensuring you are drinking enough throughout the day will help with this.
This is a really important one. Having your snacks in containers which have been portioned controlled allows you to think about what you are doing and know exactly what quantity you are eating. It gives you more of chance to stay stop. Try it.
Hijack your own reward system
We tend to pick the unhealthy foods a reward or something to look forward to. But unhealthy foods can be habit forming because they can be associated with the feel good hormones.
Remember our body releases feel good chemicals when we work out too, or when we have sex, walking, biking. These are also other “rewards” we could offer ourselves to feel good.
If you have an episode of emotional eating, first and foremost – FORGIVE YOURSELF
And start fresh the next day. Don’t continue for the rest of the week – tomorrow is a new day.
Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future.
Focus on the positive changes you are making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making the changes to lead to better health.
Don’t suffer in silence. Lean on family and friends, tell them your triggers and tell them you want to form healthy habits. Talk about ways they can support you over the next few months. Your partner isn’t going to want to offend you by telling you to put the doughnuts down if you are feeling down about things – so what can they do in moments like that? Come up with a support plan together and make it an open conversation where you can speak freely.
Join a support group. If you feel like you don’t want to speak to someone close to you about it – seek out a support group. There are many around.
This is a serious thing.
But you can change it.
Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed.
Note: Sometimes this isn’t something you can combat alone. If you don’t feel like you have control over it at all and you can’t quite get your head round it – seek professional support. I would strongly recommend MIND for their support.
However out of control you may feel at any given moment, you are ALWAYS IN CONTROL.
Take it one step at a time. Be kind to yourself and believe in yourself. It isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being aware.
You are not alone.