Tools for the Emotional Eater

We make the decision to eat many times in a day.  So what happens if we stop to examine WHY we eat?

Sure, we eat to power our brain and provide energy that fuels our bodies.  Yeah right, but, we also eat for comfort, or reward, or as a way to combat stress.  Perhaps you are one of us that eats as a way to battle depression, anxiety or boredom.

It’s time get curious about what makes you “tick” with food and reflect on how the process of making food choices colors so many aspects of your life – fitness and nutrition goals, self-care, friendships, health, your home, sex and work life.

Sometimes that little voice in our head, our inner critic, that running DJ says, “Why bother with healthy eating?  I get emotionally triggered and turn to food.  I always fall back into my old ways and don’t truly make long-term lifestyle changes.

Or maybe that inner voice sounds judgmental and harsh…

I am not “in shape” unless I am a certain arbitrary number or body fat % on the scale.  Possibly a number I haven’t seen in 20 years.

I am unhappy in my relationship/at work/at home and I eat for comfort after a bad day or angry conversation.

I feel guilt or shame after eating certain foods.  I label food “good” or “bad” for me and judge myself and the meal accordingly.

I look to food for reward or self-medication or a way to exert control when I experience negative emotions.

I give up because I don’t have the discipline or motivation or willpower to stick with my goals long enough to see true progress anyway, stress eating always wins

If any of the above resonates with you, emotional components may be creating an obstacle to clean eating habits that allow long term change and lifestyle improvements.

What’s up with this self-talk and how can it derail you?

If you have been in therapy or taken Psych 101 in the past you may have heard of attachment theory.  Humans are programmed to seek and respond to those that nurture them, survival is based on the bond that is formed.

Studies have shown that attachment styles influence our relationship with food.

Patterns are formed in childhood when someone else is in control of what you eat.  The family models behavior and those eating choices may be based on celebratory or cultural patterns. The lines between emotional/physical hunger are blurred.  You may recall the image of one-year-old in their high chair, face smeared with birthday cake.  What is the message that infant is receiving from the smiling faces around them?  Sugar and fat taste good…cake=happy.

Food is like money, or sex, or drugs, or alcohol.  It only has the power that our minds have chosen to assign it.  The beauty here is that since WE created those thoughts and even when addiction or an eating disorder takes hold, we can overcome those irrational thoughts once we identify they are no longer serving us.

Here is how the cycle works.  You experience a strong negative emotion.  That emotion may trigger the behavior to seek food.  Eating the food, especially one high in sugar content, opens the floodgates and our biochemistry takes over.  The fat, salt, sugar combination does not exist in real life.  When your body detects calories, it wants more, to prevent starvation, of course. I mean, who eats one spoonful of ice cream?

How can we can overcome all these unreasonable thoughts in our heads and stick with our wellness goals?  Below is an introduction to (2) quick tools you could use to learn to tolerate negative emotions without turning to emotional eating.

PAUSE, QUESTION, REPLACE: This is a reframing strategy for irrational thoughts

PAUSE: challenge and examine the thought

QUESTION: why am I choosing food to resolve a negative feeling?  What is really going on behind that?  Is that pint of ice cream going to change the fact that I had a fight with my partner and are feeling vulnerable?

REPLACE: Reframe your perspective.  Learn to accept and tolerate negative feelings and how to cope with stress in more healthy ways.  Call your best friend, take a walk, appreciate nature or play with your pet.

URGE SURFING-acceptance strategy (biological reaction to a strong habit)

You want to give into a temptation to eat something not in line with your goals. You feel triggered, choose to ride it like a wave, it will build, it will likely peak within 10-20 minutes, and it will eventually subside.  Get curious about it, notice how your body is experiencing sensations, watch and observe it without doing battle with it, don’t avoid it, live in it. Try to experience the urge without resorting to distraction.

The more times you are able to resist the urge, the less the frequent and intense they become.  It is almost like your body starts to realize your brain is stronger than the craving.

By giving into urges we can actually strengthen them and lose confidence in our abilities to change our old habits.

The point here is to understand your emotional triggers to eat and make intentional food choices.

Explore WHAT drives your motivation to achieve wellness goals, WHY it may not be working out quite the way you hoped and HOW to create positive change.

If you would like to support with these or other emotional issues you may be facing, please contact us today.

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