Have you ever had one of those days and then got home and dove into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? Or maybe you just had a fight with your partner or friend or someone who knows how to push your buttons and ate a bag of something that you’d rather not admit to? You might even be feeling happy or excited and made a less than stellar food choice. If you are someone who responds to emotion by eating something, you are an emotional eater.
Life’s circumstances can lead you into unhealthy food cravings, when you are in your most vulnerable state which will derail your efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We often use food to anesthetize ourselves in the face of life’s stressors. When we feel boredom, anger, sadness, fear, or loneliness we might turn to food for comfort. Unfortunately, when we do so, it will actually exacerbate the problem.
Binge- eating or compulsive eating in the face of strong emotions, can lead to even more negative emotions like guilt, self-loathing and despair. The consumption of whatever food you choose, and often it’s just whatever wasn’t able to run away from you, is usually not enjoyable, is eaten quickly and brings no pleasure. Afterward, the feelings are still there with a few more piled on. In addition to the negative emotions, you now have the physical ramifications of your poor food choices. You will likely feel bloated, possibly nauseated, and completely disgusted with yourself. Nothing good comes from overeating to quell negative emotions.
Eating as a response to negative emotion, can become an automatic, almost Pavlovian, response. You don’t even think about what you’re putting in your mouth until the damage is done. Food can also be used as a distraction. If you are worried about something, food can take your mind off of whatever is bothering you. But that’s only a temporary fix. You still have the worrisome thing hanging over your head and now you have the added baggage of having overeaten.
So what should you do to break the cycle? There are a few options you can try:
- minimize your stress level – before you resort to bad food choices, try some deep breathing, meditation, yoga or something that will bring you back to center.
- keep a food journal – write down what you eat and when. Include the emotions you were feeling as you ate, especially if you feel like you were eating in response to something besides actual hunger.
- check in on your hunger level – before you actually start eating, check in with your body and make sure you really are hungry and not just responding to something else.
- fight boredom – don’t allow yourself to get bored. Turn on some music, read a book, go for a long walk, phone a friend, get out of the house.
- remove trigger foods from your environment – don’t keep foods that you know will tempt you in a moment of weakness. Do not grocery shop if you are in a vulnerable emotional state that might tempt you to make a food purchase you’ll regret later.
- eat healthy snacks – make sure you are getting enough healthy nutrition. Blood sugar swings can feel like an emotional roller coaster, causing you to make choices that don’t serve you. Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry.
- do not beat yourself up – if you backslide and give into temptation to eat foods that aren’t in your best interest, learn from the experience so that it hopefully doesn’t happen again. Self-flagellation is not helpful and may actually lead to more destructive eating patterns.
If you still feel that you can’t control your emotional eating, seek professional help to develop better coping skills. A skilled health coach can help you develop strategies to prevent self-destructive eating patterns.
As a health coach, I work with women who are facing serious health challenges like heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes or who have been diagnosed as having a precursor to a serious health issue such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar. I help them make food and lifestyle changes so they can get healthy, live longer and enjoy a fuller, happier, more energetic life. If you would like to have a free consultation about the health challenges you have and the improvements you would like to see in your health, click here to schedule a no strings attached call.