If you’re reading this, you are probably feeling the overwhelming struggle of emotional eating.
When you’re stressed and go to reach for that bag of chips to mindlessly eat, it quite honestly stresses you out more. Or when you are feeling sad and you grab a tub of ice cream and you are left guilty about what just happened. Or maybe you are lonely and grab a cookie and keep going back for another one, and another one, and another one…
First of all, I want to say – I’ve done all of the above. I know how draining it is to feel like your emotions are controlling your eating behaviours. Second, what if I told you that emotional eating isn’t ALL bad? Yup, I said it. We’ll dive into that a bit later, so keep reading!
I want to share 5 tips for dealing with emotional eating with you so that you can stop beating yourself up about it once and for all!
DISCLAIMER: if you are dealing with an active eating disorder this information could not be suited for you and I recommend seeking out help from a health professional who specializes in eating disorders.
1. Realize Emotional Eating Isn’t A Horrible Thing
Food IS emotional. Food connects us, brings us joy, gives us a way of celebrating, is a way of sharing love, and so many more things. It is a normal response to have emotions surrounding food.
Something that you may need to do surrounding emotional eating is a mindset shift. Think to yourself – How has emotional eating been helpful for me? What kind of joy do I find in food? How has food helped me in my life?
It’s okay to be an emotional eater, we’re human! I still emotionally eat from time to time, but I don’t let it consume my life anymore.
Now, emotional eating can become a problem if:
- You feel really guilty and shameful when you emotionally eat
- You are very hard on yourself about reaching for food when feeling really (insert emotion: stressed, anxious, lonely, sad, etc.)
- Food is your ONLY coping mechanism
If you are experiencing these things, know that it is okay and there are strategies you can use to help you with your emotional eating. Let’s keep going:
2. Tune Into Your True Hunger Cues
Now, it takes time and effort to develop an understanding of true biological hunger, but it’s a great skill to work on. Understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger can be a good place to start with for dealing with emotional eating.
- Comes on gradually
- Feel open to eating a variety of different foods
- Doesn’t feel urgent
- Comes with physical feelings of hunger (stomach growling, feeling low energy)
- Is satisfied with the feeling of fullness
- Comes on suddenly
- Crave a specific food
- Feels urgent, you need to eat that food right now!
- Does not come with physical feelings of hunger
- Never really leaves you feeling satisfied
To tune into your true feelings of hunger a little bit more, my free guide explains how to use a tool called the Hunger-Fullness scale to recognize when you are experiencing physical hunger.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Eat
I’m going to flat out say it – the food you turn to when you are feeling emotional is the food that you tend to restrict or cut out. Did I get that right?
Dealing with emotional eating becomes merely impossible if your body isn’t properly nourished
The act of restricting foods (especially when they are foods that bring us joy) will make you crave and desire these foods so deeply that you may feel like you can’t control or stop yourself when you get the urges to eat that food.
I won’t get into the physiological mechanisms of this in this post, but know that this is your body’s normal response to cutting out foods. If your body is feeling deprived, it will prompt you to eat more, it’s just a natural survival mechanism!
Since restricting food or having a list of forbidden foods is likely leading to heightened emotional eating, let’s stop the dieting! Nourish your body with foods that make you feel good and give you energy instead of depriving your body of the energy it needs.
4. Identify Your Emotions
Emotional eating comes from having strong emotions. It’s a beautiful thing to feel so deeply and I am thankful for my ability to have emotions.
To start feeling more in tune with your emotions, start by identifying your emotions. This can help to understand what is going on in your life and what needs of yours are not being met.
How to Identify Your Emotions:
- When you feel certain emotions coming on, journal about it. Write everything down and get it out of your head.
- Ask yourself: What is the emotion I’m feeling? What triggered that emotion to arise? How can I cope with this emotion (see next tip)?
- Talk it out with someone, another perspective might help you to realize things you wouldn’t have otherwise
- Look at the feelings wheel to identify what emotions you are feeling
When you feel these emotions come on, take a moment and pause to feel that emotion. Try a little exercise that my good friend, Haley from Uplift Lifestyle, taught me:
Close your eyes and take a moment to pause and feel that emotion. Imagine yourself looking at that emotion and say “hello, (insert emotion, i.e. sadness, fear, stress)” and acknowledge that you see that emotion. Tell the emotion that you understand it has appeared in your life but that you don’t need it right now (if that applies).
5. Make a List of Coping Strategies
When you feel (insert emotion: stressed, anxious, sad, lonely, bored, etc.) do you feel like it’s an automatic response that you reach for food? This is likely because you have made eating a coping mechanism to those emotions that turned into an automatic habit.
Remember when I said earlier that emotional eating becomes a problem when its your only coping mechanism? To help that, let’s brainstorm some other coping strategies together.
When you’re feeling strong emotions, try some of these coping strategies instead of automatically reaching for food:
- Call a friend
- Do some deep breathing
- Go for a walk
- Journal about what you’re feeling
- Let out the energy – big deep loud sigh, jumping around and shaking it off, or doing a workout
- Do some drawing or colouring
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This could be a friend, family member or therapist.
- The list could go on!
Choose any coping mechanisms that work for you. I highly recommend seeing a therapist to figure out healthy coping mechanisms that suit your needs best, if it is accessible to you! It’s not scary, I promise.
I hope that you can take at least one thing away from this post on dealing with emotional eating and implement it into your life right now. If you have any further questions about emotional eating, please feel free to message me on Instagram or send me an email. I’m always happy to chat!