Emotional eating is eating in response to emotional irritability instead of physical hunger. Emotional eating can happen in overweight (obese) individuals and normal-weight individuals causing, sickness, negative body image, shame, and self-loathing.
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How would you rate your relationship with food?
When I was a teen, my relationship with food was acidic. I starved myself. I suffered from the need to be skinny and I hated my body. From ages 14-16, the pressure to be thinner hit me hard. As I got older, my need to be “skinny” flattened, but I still wished for a certain body type.
The desire to lose weight didn’t hit me again until college. My relationship with food was awful! I ate, and I ate, and I ate. Everything I learned about healthy food in my childhood soon disappeared. My binge eating was out of control and my relationship with food toxified.
Although I binged, I exercised a lot. My thought process then was, “I’m an athlete, who cares if I’m overeating, I will run it off.” The idea that you can run off excessive calories is terrible thinking. What happens if you can no longer exercise? What then?
In my early blog days, I spoke about the many “clean” diets/challenges that I took on. I wanted to find a healthy lifestyle so I chose vegetarianism. My relationship with food has gotten better but I still have work to do!
Getting to the Root cause of Emotional Eating
I’m not a registered dietitian and I am certainly not a doctor, but I do know that emotional eating will sabotage your fitness goals.
When I work with clients, I get to the root cause of their weight loss struggle. What is your WHY? And what is keeping you from your goals? These are a few questions that I ask when I answer inquiries.
As a fitness coach and a recovered emotional wreck, I understand that food can be a coping mechanism. In some ways, we all use food to cope to solve an emotional need.
When we eat on emotions, we are not choosing to eat leafy greens to soothe our aching hearts. Rather, we chose to eat junk food, and there lies the problem.
We have learned from an early age to associate junk food (comfort food) with happiness i.e., Let’s get ice cream! And sometimes food cravings can come from certain emotional triggers.
Emotional triggers that may cause overeating:
- happiness, I am celebrating a new job or a win.
- stress, I lost my job or experienced a break up.
- disappointment, My family let me down.
- sadness, My boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with me.
- irritability, Something or someone is getting on my nerves.
- frustration, Something is not working for me.
- depression, My life sucks.
- shame, Something is inherently wrong with me.
- boredom, I have nothing else to do.
These emotional triggers cause an emotional response (happiness etc) that then causes one to look for a release. The emotional release is eating.
Instead of food, your release needs to be something that is constructive. If you often eat from an emotional response thus your relationship with food is not healthy.
Identifying the Pattern
Normal weight people and overweight people both can struggle with emotional eating. Emotional eating is a learned behavior. However, normal-weight people use exercise and fasting to combat emotional eating. Exercise has shown to help emotional eating but it won’t provide a permanent solution.
Emotional eating is a pattern and the pattern goes like this:
I’m feeling sad I didn’t get the raise at my job that I wanted, I want some chocolate.
(Let’s break this down further)
First thing, let’s identify the problem?
Problem: I didn’t get a raise at my job that I work hard for. Therefore, I feel anger and now sadness.
I will highlight the emotional trigger and then, I will underline the emotional response.
I didn’t get a raise at my job that I worked hard for. Therefore, I feel anger and now sadness.
What will make this person feel better after they have felt anger and sadness?
I want some chocolate.
From this scenario, we can conclude this equation:
Emotional trigger + emotional response= emotional release
Emotional release = food
This general scenario is the pattern of emotionally eating. If this pattern continues, then it will create a habit. CAREFUL, this habit can turn into overeating! Over time, if the habit continues, your brain will have a difficult time with signaling your body to stop eating.
Here’s a bit of good news, once the pattern has been identified, you can get to the root and break free. I know it is easier said than done, but it is possible.
Train your Mind and Train your Body
Break Free of emotional eating by The Fit Savvy Coach
If you struggle with overeating, YOU CAN RECOVER AND OVERCOME. For some, it may take longer than others. There is no specific timeline that will tell you how long it will take to stop overeating. It is a step by step –brick by brick process.
As a coach, my job is to guide you through the process. When you become emotionally triggered, you can try to swap out food for another solution. Identify your emotions before you grab something to eat!
Example of swap out solutions:
- Write your feelings down and explain how you feel.
- Tell yourself you can eat later. Give yourself an hour or two before you eat.
- Go walking. If you are at work, take a quick break or get some air.
- Vent to a trusted source and talk out your feelings and the problem.
Long Term Solutions to Emotional Eating
So now that you know what to do to stop the emotional eating now let’s talk about long term solutions:
Journaling and Writing
Journaling can help boost your mood and decrease emotional turmoil. When you write, don’t focus on grammar, write.
When upset, your writing may be all over the place. Underline and highlight common themes that show up in your writing. Those common themes will show you the answers that you need to problem-solve.
Meditation And Yoga
I am a believer in both meditation and yoga. You can use both of these practices to calm your mind, release tension, and anger. Certain poses and breathing can help regulate your mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.
Teach yourself a new hobby
Teaching yourself something new and finding success in that new thing will increase self-efficacy. It will boost your self-esteem and you can learn to trust yourself in the process.
Positive thinking begins with positive beliefs. Positive beliefs will develop positive patterns and actions. The more you say these types of affirmations the better your outlook will be on the real world. If you never have said an affirmation start with this one:
Mental health has come a long way. There are still stigmas associated with seeking professional help. Seeking a therapist doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you are responsible. Therapy can help you work through anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and trauma.
A licensed therapist will guide you and help you beyond what wellness and fitness programs can do.
You may find that one particular solution is better than others. Or you may find that you need a dose of everything to alleviate the need to emotionally eat. It is okay. Rarely, does someone find one solution to a complex problem. Besides, multiple solutions will eliminate excuses.
Assess your health and wellness goals. Check-in with your emotions. Do you feel hungrier when you experience a certain kind of emotion? Do you have healthy hobbies?