Emotional eating occurs when we eat large quantities of food, particularly junk food to deal with feelings rather than hunger. Food can give us comfort, distraction, a sense of fun and a quick escape from stress or bad feelings. But this is quickly followed by a familiar feeling of failure and loss of self esteem. This is a destructive cycle of unhealthy behaviour. If such emotional eating is significant in your life, then it will be hard to lose weight permanently. In order to lose weight and maintain the loss, you must learn more about what motivates your emotional eating.
Find out what triggers emotional eating for you
Keep a diary to record everything you eat , your feelings and the circumstances which cause you to react by emotional eating. After keeping the diary for a month or two you will understand your emotional eating patterns better. Do you turn to food when you are feeling sad, depressed, frustrated, trapped, angry, bored, lonely, overwhelmed, happy? What can you do to address these feelings without turning to food?
A new hobby can help. If you are bored, choose something which is challenging such as learning to sing or to play golf. If you are stressed out from overwork, try something which is more relaxing- attending concerts or films. If you are confined to your home, try scrapbooking, reading , knitting or craft-anything which is not food related and which is relaxing and enjoyable rather than stress-inducing.
Exercise is a wonderful way of countering negative emotions. Go for a walk. If possible walk in a park or other pleasant place where you can have a sense of getting away from it all and being closer to nature. Otherwise, find another form of exercise which you can enjoy. From tai chi to mountaineering-there are many types of exercise. One or more will be just right for you. Even better, find exercise which you can do with friends or where you can meet congenial new friends. Surround yourself with others who are interested in being heathy and fit.
Avoid triggers for emotional eating
Your diary may show that you emotionally eat at particular times eg
Getting home from work (when no-one else is home)
Shopping for food and groceries
Going to restaurants
Doing unpleasant tasks
While studying or working to a tight schedule
When you are tired or feel overwhelmed
Going to a party where there is a lot of party food.
Develop strategies to counteract the cue to for emotional eating
Have healthy, pre-prepared low-calorie food available at all times at home. eg pieces of carrot, celery, apples. When you feel the urge toward emotional eating at home, first eat the prepared healthy food. Then calm down, play relaxing music, have a bubble bath.
Buy popping corn and make yourself some fresh popcorn. This is a satisfying and healthy option so long as you dont add butter to the popcorn.
Eat an apple or other healthy food before shopping, going to a restaurant or to a party. Drink water and little if any alcohol as drinking alcohol is likely to lead to overeating
Enjoy your food. Dont rush. Eat slowly so that you savour every morsel.
Begin to see yourself as a gourmet, an expert on good food. Like the French, you choose quality over quantity. What ingredients can you detect in the food? What flavours? You dont need to eat a lot, just a small portion of quality food.
Learn to accept some physical discomfort
In our affluent society, we are used to having our needs satisified quickly. Whenever we feel uncomfortable, we head for a solution, which is often food. Learn to put up with the experience of some physical discomfort. Think of an athlete whom you admire. Is he/she able to put up with some discomfort during training and a sporting event? What are the advantages of being able to do that? Would the athlete be as successful without being able to tolerate discomfort?
When you feel uncomfortable eg when your stomach tenses as you feel a looming deadline for some work you need to complete, just observe your feelings. Stand up, stretch, listen to some calming music. Resist the urge to stop the negative feelings up with food. Repeat an affirmation to yourself:
I can handle this feeling.
As I handle this feeling, I grow stronger.
Take time out for yourself
A short period of meditation or doing some calming, gentle exercise each day like yoga or walking can really help you to de -stress.
Dealing with relapse
The main reason people do not achieve their weight loss goal (or any other goal) is that they do not continue with the program they have chosen all the way to the end. Accept that despite your best efforts you may relapse into emotional eating at some time. Dont despair and give up. Look again at the triggers and find strategies for dealing with them. Get back on the program. Be gentle with yourself. Dont let feelings of low self esteem cause you to continue overeating. You are worth the effort.