You’re hungry, and you eat to satisfy that hunger. Seems pretty straightforward, right? What about when you went through a bad breakup and found yourself digging into a pint of Ben & Jerry's? That, my friend, is emotional eating. And while we all have those times when food is used to comfort us, what happens when you realize food is the ONLY way you know how to cope with tough emotions?
Because if you are being honest with yourself:
- Is the problem that you’re emotionally eating because you’re upset, or that you always act out when upset?
- Is the problem that you’re emotionally eating because you’re angry, or that you’re not able to process your anger?
- Finally, is the problem that you’re emotionally eating because you’re anxious, or that you’re not able to sit with your anxiety?
What is emotional eating?
It is coping with food. You’re using food to calm yourself down. Therefore, leaving no room to acknowledge emotions, address them, or work through them. And because we obviously can’t get rid of having emotions (it’s a part of life!), you need to find new, healthy ways to cope if you want to stop coping with food.
Step One: Identify the emotion
Before heading straight to the kitchen, take a moment to think about what you’re feeling that is causing the emotional eating.
- What was the trigger?
- How are you feeling in your body?
- What thoughts are going on in your head?
Step Two: Welcome the emotion
Once you’ve identified the emotion, use this template to welcome the emotion and figure out what it’s trying to tell you it needs.
Hi, *emotion* I think you are trying to tell me ____
- Hi, stress. I think you are trying to tell me I need to re-prioritize
- Hello, anxiety. I think you are trying to tell me I need to focus on what I can control
- Hi, guilt. I think you are trying to tell me I need to remind myself I did nothing wrong
- Hello, shame. I think you are trying to tell me I need to find a safe space
Step Three: Think about alternative ways to meet that need
You know what your emotions are trying to tell you, so now use this template to find another way to meet that need (that doesn’t involve stuffing it down with food – aka emotional eating).
Hi *emotion* I think you are trying to tell me ____, and I will do that by ____
- Hi, stress. I think you are trying to tell me I need to re-prioritize. I will do that by saying no to things I don’t need to do.
- Hey, anxiety. I think you are trying to tell me I need to focus on what I can control. I will do that by listing everything I have control over right now.
- Hi, guilt. I think you are trying to tell me I need to remind myself I did nothing wrong. I will do that by talking to myself.
- Hello, shame. I think you are trying to tell me I need to find a safe space. I will do that by going and giving my puppy a big snuggle.
Step Four: Avoid blaming the food
Lastly, a reminder. Shaming yourself for emotional eating when you experience tough emotions will never solve the problem. Instead, follow steps one through three to address your emotions.
- Instead of: I need to stop eating when I'm stressed!
- Try: What is this stress telling me I need?
- Instead of: Why do I always eat when I am bored?
- Try: Why do I have difficulty finding pleasurable activities when I have unplanned time? What is that really about?
I get it, at the moment, that food DOES seem to fill that void. But, the key phrase here is: at the moment. But in reality, the feelings that triggered the eating are still there! And if you’re honest with yourself, at the end of that emotional eating session, do you feel better? Nope. You likely feel worse because those original emotions are there, AND you feel guilty for the food you just consumed.
What is Emotional Eating? TLDR;
This is not about shaming yourself for emotional eating but learning to face the discomfort of your feelings because you want a bigger life beyond what food can give you. So, next time, before you run straight for the fridge, use this method to identify your emotions, figure out what it’s trying to tell you, and find a healthy way to meet that need.