Emotional eating is the tendency to respond to stress by eating. Emotional eaters typically choose high-calorie or high-carbohydrate foods that have minimal nutritional value. These foods are often engineered to be highly addictive and emotional eaters suffer the consequences by gaining weight, whole body inflammation and aggravated IBS.
If you find yourself choosing comfort foods like ice cream, cookies, chocolate, chips, French fries, pizza or low quality takeout and fast foods rather than your usual healthy food choices, you’re probably in the middle of an emotional eating binge.
Despite having the best of intentions, life sometimes seems to get the better of us and we run off the path so to speak and break our promise to stay on a good healthy diet. It happens for a number of reasons and the important thing to remember is that we have only strayed, we are not lost. We often fall into bad habits when under stress.
There are a few simple techniques at our disposal to bring us back gradually, even when we feel we don’t have the strength to do it. When you can’t take big steps, you take small ones. As long as those steps are taking you in the right direction, you will get there, and that’s all that matters.
Emotional Eating And Weight Loss
Many people have a difficult time keeping up their healthy eating habits when they’re under stress. Whether you are eating to fill an emotional need or grabbing fast food because you feel there’s no time to prepare something healthy, you end up making unhealthy food choices that undermine the progress you’ve made in your diet.
Making poor food choices when under stress increases the odds of gaining weight because your body’s system of hormonal checks and balances is not working as usual and you are already predisposed to gain weight at times like this.
Bad habits like emotional eating will often sabotage your weight loss program because you end up eating foods you would not be eating if you were sticking to your diet plan.
In essence, you are using the stressful situation as an excuse to fall off the wagon. You end up feeling guilty and this in turn provides the fuel to extend the binge. You’ve messed up, so you might as well really indulge yourself is the underlying thought.
Unless you become aware of the pattern you’ve fallen into, you could go on in this way for some time, even to the point of giving up any progress you’ve made in your weight loss journey.
It doesn’t have to be that way – you can turn this around right now!
What Is Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is a way to soothe or subdue negative emotions like anger, boredom, fear, loneliness, sadness and stress. It doesn’t take a major event to trigger emotional eating. Sometimes, we fall back into our bad habits in response to the aggravations of daily life.
Whatever it is that causes your emotional eating, the end result is always the same. The emotions will return and you will now have to deal with the extra burden created by the guilt feelings from going off your diet. If you went off track for more than a day, you probably put some weight back on that you had just recently lost, and that can create even more negative emotions to deal with.
You need to be aware of this so you don’t fall into a cycle that continues to feed on itself. Your emotions trigger emotional eating, you beat yourself up for getting off your weight loss plan, you feel bad and hopeless and this starts the cycle to overeat again.
Emotional Eating – Why Food Comforts Us
- Reward: We use the stressful event as a reason to reward ourselves with junk food or convenience foods we know we shouldn’t be eating while on a diet.
- Hormones: When stressed, your body is flooded with cortisol and this makes you crave carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods. These foods cause chemical changes in your body and this has a soothing effect.
- Distraction: Eating takes your attention away from the event that is emotionally distressing.
- Entertainment: It’s a way to deal with boredom and anxiety. Eating is a ritual that is associated with having a good time and socializing.
- Good Memories: Emotional eating is often linked to your childhood. Reliving good times by eating foods you enjoyed as a child can bring back positive and/or comforting memories.
How To Stop Emotional Eating
There is a solution to every problem and breaking or changing a run of emotional eating is no exception. All it takes is the will to do it and some practice and perseverance to rewire your brain to make a few changes to your routine.
The first step is to be aware you are in an emotional eating rut.
A lot of emotional eating takes place unconsciously. We often act out of habit and do things automatically without thinking about it and you may well have started another cycle of emotional eating unintentionally.
But you don’t go off your diet plan without knowing it. You’ve just made an exception because of some stressful event. Being aware that this is going on is the first step to stopping the cycle.
The second step is to change the behavior.
Let’s say you realize that you’ve gone off your diet and you’ve been eating out or you’ve been eating some convenience foods because of stress at work. One of your co-workers left for another job and you are expected to take up the slack until they find a replacement. Your nose is to the grindstone all day and you’ve had to work late and even come in on weekends.
Now that you are conscious of the fact that are involved in a round of emotional eating, you are going to intervene and change the behavior slightly by eating something different than what it is you’ve been eating.
Choose something that is a bit less pleasant and less satisfying than what your preferred choice is. Once you’ve done that a few times, choose something that is even a bit less satisfying. By taking these small steps, you will put yourself back on course to end the run of emotional eating and get back to making healthy food choices.
There’s nothing wrong with emotional eating if you are eating something that is good for you. That’s the goal. In the ELH DIET we always eat when we feel like eating, no matter what the motivation is. We just make healthy food choices.
The third step is to practice until you perfect it.
Keep making healthier food choices until your emotional eating is no longer a problem. Take a moment to think about it and make a list of the foods you are binging on. Create a list in reduced order of preference of the food choices you are making when emotional eating takes place.
As an example, let’s say when you get stressed out at work you start eating your breakfast at McDonald’s instead of making something to eat at home. Make a list of 3 breakfast choices you make at McDonald’s starting with your favorite breakfast meal. Number two item is your second favorite and number three is the last choice you would make in terms of preference.
You start to change your behavior by choosing item number two instead of item number one when you walk into McDonald’s tomorrow. Do this a couple of times until you feel you are ready to make choice number three. After a few days of choice number three, you should be able to go back to making something to eat at home and get back on track with your diet.
Other Techniques To Stop Emotional Eating
There are other ways to calm yourself besides eating something. Try going for a short walk or take a seat in your favorite chair and read a book or a magazine you find interesting. Go window shopping if you like to shop. If you feel like eating, eat something healthy and enjoy it – you’ll be glad you did.