image courtesy of: D Sharon Pruitt
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How to stop emotional eating, that is the question
A reader left a comment on last Friday’s post (where I show what 1500 calories look like).
After she left the comment, I replied & asked her if I could respond to her question in a post. She said yes.
I am wondering if you have ever had struggles with emotional eating. A year ago we moved and begun to renovate our new home and the weight crept on in a few months, I almost didn’t notice it until I had to put on my jeans last fall. I have been trying to lose weight for months and the scale is not budging despite my efforts to work out six days a week and eat well.
I started keeping a journal, really documenting when I eat and trying to look for patterns and/or times when I eat too much or less-than-ideal foods. I never thought I was a stress eater but by George, I am.
I’ve tried all the suggestions to stop emotional eating (found on various websites) and I just cannot seem to stop self medicating with food. It is the worst, because then I get so angry at myself for eating a cookie (or an apple, doesn’t matter) instead of dealing with my feelings, then I feel even worse.
Totally a vicious cycle. I am eating mostly vegan (with the exception of eating out- like that Olive Garden salad!) and lifting weights and doing some form of cardio 5-6 times a week. I love working out, it’s my “me time” and a great stress reliever but obviously not enough. I really feel like I’m in the “healthy” category but my body definitely doesn’t look like I want it to. So I’m hoping you’ll have some insight.
Here’s my response. ↓
Yes, of course, I’ve dealt with emotional eating!
(I am female, after all.)
Sometimes life is just stressful, hard, tiring, & you want to cope with it in some way. There are lots of ways of dealing with stress, some better than others. But eating is surely a very common way to deal with the rough edges of life.
I’ve written a whole book on how to lose weight. But sometimes, when there’s a larger issue at play (as is the case with emotional eating), you can know & understand the theory behind weight loss (calories, what foods to eat, etc.), but it doesn’t mean squat if you’re not able to move past the psychology of why you’re choosing to do what you do.
Why do we eat when we’re stressed/sad/mad/frustrated?
Because we want to cope. We want the uncomfortable feelings to go away so we don’t have to deal with them. We want to be distracted, even for a moment. We humans are pain-averse, & with good reason. But I think, by making a few connections, you’ll be better able to cope with your emotions without turning to food.
For me, I find a few things extremely helpful.
1. Talking with someone who listens & cares.
If I can vent & articulate my emotions, instead of channeling them into a pint of ice cream, I can better deal with what’s going on in my life. Fortunately, I have a husband who listens & is considerate, & knows of all the issues I can have surrounding food & stress, & this helps a lot. He helps me deal with my emotions in a non-food way.
2. Basic time management.
I strive to keep routines & rituals in tact that help me adhere to a schedule. This not only helps me keep my priorities straight, but the daily routines help me to get more done, eat when it’s time to eat, sleep when it’s time to sleep.
I strive to have eating times (meals) & non-eating times (any time between a meal) to keep me from needlessly grazing or using food to cope with emotions. Does this mean I never snack? No, it just means I try to keep food reserved for specific, set-aside times of the day.
One meal of the day includes my kids & husband. Eating with others is always a good idea, though this is not to say that emotional eating can’t happen with others, it’s just to point out that often when eating happens within the confines of a ritual (say dinner) with loved ones & conversation, you’ll be less likely to over eat or emotional eat.
I also find that when I have a set daily & weekly schedule, I don’t feel so overwhelmed with everything on my to do list. When I put first things first (exercise, spiritual time, time with children & husband), other things seem to get done without as much friction. When I have goals to work towards, when I have projects I’m working on, & when I have time set aside to work on these things, I feel energized, excited, & it’s rare that I even have time or desire to eat much beyond just satisfying hunger.
I can’t stress enough how important rituals, routines, goal setting, & schedules are. For me, when things get crazy, it’s when my routine falls to pieces & life truly feels chaotic that I feel like eating copious amounts of chocolate & ice cream.
One of the best & most straightforward resources on time management is an ebook by Amy Andrews, called Tell Your Time. It’s a quick read, but will help you figure out what matters most, what goals you want to work towards, & how you can best manage your time in order to be the kind of person you want to be.
3. Consider a cleanse.
Here’s the thing, when it comes to cleansing, I don’t have a ton of experience. I’ve done a few cleanses, but nothing too intense, because for most of the last decade I’ve been either nursing or pregnant.
The whole point behind a cleanse is not to lose weight, but to re-adjust your taste buds, to strengthen your self-control, & to learn to love & appreciate food again.
My friend Leanne has put together a guide for how to do a cleanse in her Vibrant Life Cookbook. Having some time & space away from a lot of the normal foods you eat can be one way to gain some awareness about yourself & may ultimately help you cope better with the tendency to turn to food as a way of managing emotions.
4. Fill up on lots of raw foods.
I’m no raw foodist, but I love raw foods. Why? Because they fill me up, deliver a ton of nutrients, & give me lots of energy. They also act as a buffer for mindless eating. I have a green smoothie once a day (sometimes more). I have a few servings of raw vegetables most days. I make sure to have a few servings of fresh or frozen fruit. Honestly, when I do this, I’m much less likely to turn to food (no matter how stressed/sad I am), if my belly is full of lots of raw goodness.
Doug Lilse, PhD. talks a lot about the psychology behind our food choices in his book The Pleasure Trap. It’s a book I’ve read several times, at different points in the last 8 years or so because it’s one of those books that you read it, & then you need to refresh your memory on all the helpful details. I highly recommend checking it out.
Yoga totally helps me cope with whatever turmoil I have going on. I love it for so many reasons, but as it pertains to this discussion, I love it because it helps me step away from the world for a bit & just focus on moving & breathing. It’s incredibly liberating & really helps to minimize the tendency to turn to food for comfort.
None of these suggestions are a complete solution to emotional eating–which is a behavior that has some complex triggers behind it, & everybody does it for slightly different reasons. Therefore the solutions will vary from individual to individual.
But for me, knowing that I can talk to someone (usually my husband or a girlfriend), having goals & a setting a daily & weekly schedule, practicing yoga on a regular basis, & eating lots of raw foods, are all little things, that when done together really add up to create a strong defense against emotional eating.
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to comment & share your struggles. I hope there’s something in this post that will be helpful to you.
P.S. Other bring joy posts you may find helpful:
Do you struggle with emotional eating?
Do you have anything to add or to offer to Jenny?