Although I haven’t engaged in emotional eating in several years, I understand the toll that it can have on someone. I have not always had the best relationship with food. The current health pandemic (aka: “Rona”) reminds me of the days when I would eat my stress away or out of boredom.
Emotional eating is a maladaptive coping mechanism to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. Emotional eating often left me feeling hopeless and that I lacked self-control. It became a vicious cycle of excessive bloating, weight gain, self-hatred, guilt, and much more.
As a result of my eating habits, I was 5’1 and overweight, with much of the fat being visceral (belly) fat. As I have gotten older, I am much more candid about my health as it relates to my physical wellbeing. Over the past two years, I have comfortably lost 23 pounds, kept it off, and started a strength training journey. I still have quite a long way to go, but I am happy with my progress! Keep reading to find out my tips on how I overcame emotional eating.
1. Allow yourself to feel your emotions
I may be stating the obvious, but emotional eating increases when you’re stressed. Every time I felt an emotion that I didn’t want to deal with, I would turn to food. During my days in undergrad, sugar (ie. Talenti gelato) and anything with bread were my choices of comfort to ignore anxieties about school.
I experienced the worst of my eating after undergrad. The weight of mental, physical, and emotional stress caused by a toxic work environment, an abusive relationship, and other personal life circumstances felt too overwhelming to bear. As a result, I used food to cope with those stressors. I could go on and on about this. But the common theme is that I needed to allow myself to feel my emotions. Food was simply not going to provide me with the healing that I needed. I started checking in with myself. I’d ask things like, “what am I feeling right now?”, “is my hunger more physically or emotionally motivated?”, or “am I really hungry?” Questions like these helped me to determine whether or not I truly had an appetite or if my desire for food was triggered by something else.
By acknowledging difficult feelings, I would learn more about my eating habits and emotional eating triggers. I could then find more productive, healthy coping strategies. See #2.
2. Exercise more often
I cannot emphasize enough how important and beneficial exercising is for stress management. When I felt negative or overwhelming feelings, I would take walks, go out for a quick run, or simply just dance to some music. The key here was to find meaningful distractions. I eventually got a gym membership as well, and I currently go 5-6 times a week. A really cool fact? The more physically fit you are, the more resistant you become to stress.
3. Plan your meals
I love the adage that goes “failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s so true. My worst eating days are when I do not plan my meals, especially when I am stressed. I’m a huge fan of meal prepping and planning. It’s helpful to create a weekly menu that you will stick to. Then, pick a day out of the week where you can make time to grocery shop and prepare your meals.
Although you want to make sure that you’re not totally depriving yourself, it’s also important to set boundaries too. For example, I love pasta and I still eat it–but I also know that I need to follow the serving size! Similarly, to cut back on my love of sweets, I replace them with fresh or dried fruits instead. You can get my e-book here where I share helpful tips for meal prepping and grocery shopping.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
4. Keep a food journal
Now, this is a challenge that I have for you. Keep a record of every meal you eat! Some ideas include taking pictures of your meals, keeping a physical journal, or logging your meals into an app. I currently use MyFitnessPal for iPhone. Also, take notes on what you were feeling at the time that you were eating.
For some people, there may be anxiety about the thought of tracking every meal you eat. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to face the truth about our eating habits. But you can also counter those anxieties with accountability. A food journal keeps you accountable! Ever since I started a food journal, I have developed self-awareness in several ways. 1) I know how I eat my calories AND how much I eat. That has helped me to manage my weight and my other health goals. Most importantly, 2) I am more aware of my eating habits. Often times, emotionally eating means that we are reaching for “comfort” foods that are not the most nutritious for our bodies. A food journal can help you track your eating patterns.
5. Consider an eating schedule
I have recently started intermittent fasting, and I love it! Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. When you eat, you only do so during a specific period of time. There are many ways to do this, but I do the 16:8 method (I eat all of my meals between 12-8 pm, then fast until 12 pm the next day). Although there are plenty of benefits to intermittent fasting, it does require greater self-control. However, you don’t have to try intermittent fasting to maintain an eating schedule. You can simply create easy reminders on your phone for when to eat throughout the day. Make sure that your foods contain plenty of nutrients to fight off stress! See #3. The internet is also a goldmine of information.
I also want to add that it’s also okay to seek professional help. If you find that you are unable to overcome stress or emotional eating, seek a therapist. While I am not a licensed clinician, I believe it is still worthwhile to share my experiences and any helpful information. Do you find yourself eating more when under stress or have any other tips for overcoming those urges? Feel free to share in the comments below!