Wow is this ever a big deal! So many people use food as a reward, as a treat, or as a way to calm themselves when they’re anxious, depressed or angry. It’s easy to do because a lot of the time it works – food does help you feel better in the moment when you’re emotions are getting the best of you. It also hurts you in the long-run because then you have to struggle with weight, self-image issues and body issues. This is a no-win cycle, but there are ways out.
You know you eat emotionally if:
- The first thing you want to do when you’ve had a bad day is eat
- You often find yourself eating ‘for no reason’ or ‘because you’re bored’
- You eat when you’re stressed
- You gain weight in stressful times or in emotional times
- You feel ‘addicted’ to food or to certain foods
Here is what you can do about it:
Emotional eating isn’t easy to fix, but it isn’t hard either. The hardest part is being willing to do it, to actually sit down with yourself and feel what you’re feeling instead of self-medicating with food. It’s always easier to avoid and eat to make yourself feel better, but in the long run that only hurts you. Emotional eating is exactly like a drug addiction – it’s a way to avoid your real issues by medicating them with something. Here’s a great activity to try at home.
Emotional eating awareness exercise:
- When you’re sitting down to eat after a stressful day or when you’re feeling off, fill your plate (or grab the chip bag or the tub of ice cream) like you normally would.
- Sit down as usual, but set your kitchen timer for 5 minutes.
- In that 5 minutes, just sit and look at your food but don’t touch it yet. Just sit, and look and pay attention to how you feel.
- In that 5 minutes, you may feel angry for having to wait, impatient, frustrated, sad, or irritable. You may burst into tears, start thinking about a fight you had with your partner or have a grand realization about your life. You also may not notice anything. Just pay attention to however it is that you feel and when the buzzer rings then eat.
- As you’re eating, notice what the food feels like in your mouth, why you chose the food you did and how you feel as you’re eating it. Really think about whether or not that food is making you feel any different. Really think about if that food is giving you what you thought it would or not.
This is an exercise in finding out about yourself. Emotional eating is different in every person because we all have different hurts, fears, traumas, anxieties and life situations. The only way to fix it is to notice that you’re doing it, notice when it happens and find a different way to deal with those emotions. The idea behind this is that you can’t deal with whatever is under there, unless you know what it is and this is step 1 to becoming aware of what is underneath your emotional eating.
It’s a good idea to write in a journal or even talk with a friend or counselor about it. The best book I’ve found about emotional eating is Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God. It’s just a great resource for anyone who really wants to get to the root of their emotional self with food, and uses food as a pathway to everything – life, beliefs about yourself, and god.
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