How I stopped emotional eating
I’ve been thinking about how my relationship with food has changed over the years. I started this blog back in 2010, and since then I’ve completely shifted the way I eat.
Before I ‘found healthy living’ I was pretty overweight and stuck in that rut of yoyo dieting where I’d be 100% perfect with my eating but then find myself eating crap and repeating the process. Sound familiar? But perhaps the biggest issue I had was that I was emotionally eating in amongst all of that. Fast forward a couple of years and I was obsessively controlling what I was eating – not eating in a typically emotional way, but through being so restrictive and obsessed I was still avoiding my emotions by putting all my energy into thinking about how I could eat more healthily.
Now before I go into this post further, I want to note that not all emotional eating is bad. Sometimes it’s our way of coping with extremely difficult emotions and times in our lives. Having an emotional connection with food is totally normal and unless it’s problematic for you then there’s no need to ‘fix’ anything. We all have days when an ice cream just makes us feel better and that’s ok!
However for me what emotional eating represented was a way for me to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions and thoughts – ironically those often connected to my weight and appearance.
As I started to address my orthorexia I started emotionally eating again in the typical pattern of overeating / bingeing on less healthy foods – and sometimes even healthy foods. Then I’d feel crap and then start overeating again to numb out of the uncomfortable guilty bloated feeling. It was such a vicious circle.
So for me, my emotional eating was intertwined with a form of binge eating as well. Now I’m not a professional in disordered eating, but I am an expert in me – and I have worked with hundreds of women around their mindset (a big part of this picture!) so I wanted to share a few things that worked for me and which have helped me completely transform my behaviours around food so that I no longer eat in a destructive emotional / binge kind of way.
I stopped restricting food
This took a long long time for me to embrace, but when I stopped restricting the foods I mentally labelled as ‘bad’ I no longer felt like I needed to eat all of them immediately so that I could ‘start fresh’ the next day. This means I stop when I’m full (most of the time – I’m not perfect and I still love food!) and I just eat them the next time I feel like it.
This has helped me because I used to feel so pants when I ate something I labelled as ‘bad’ that I’d eat more to numb out the uncomfortable guilty emotion.
So know I try not to mentally label foods and I just allow myself to eat what I feel like as much as possible although I do try and make sure I consciously eat things I know are good for me such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, olive oil etc.
I started to feel my feelings
Ooof is this a biggie! If we’re emotionally eating in a destructive way this is the thing we need to start addressing. I was eating as a way to avoid feeling any emotion that was uncomfortable – ranging from guilt to boredom to anger. Sometimes I’d even emotionally eat when I felt extreme happiness because my mind wasn’t used to feeling emotions so intense, both negative and positive.
Again, this took some time but I started off by noticing when I was engaging in emotional eating and seeing that as a sign to probe my feelings a bit more deeply to see if I could identify the emotion I was trying to avoid.
I started journaling to help me understand those emotions better and just giving myself the time and space to feel.
As these are uncomfortable emotions our mind is going to fight us when we try and just sit with them which is why this takes some practice but once you’re in more of a habit of doing it you’re able to mentally ‘diffuse’ the feeling – the way it works for me is usually once I can identify what it is and sit with it and journal it out I feel better and the cycle stops.
For me, it was actually boredom that was one of the main issues, so learning to sit with that and of course – better ways of entertaining myself, has helped!
*I should also add – depending on your personal history and experiences and if you’ve experienced severe trauma of any kind, sometimes this process of feeling your feelings needs to be done with professional support.
I got into a better evening routine
My prime emotional eating time was on an evening after dinner. This would usually be when I’d feel bored, but it was also the time of day when I slowed down enough to let any uncomfortable feelings rise up.
When I got a better evening routine that included something to stop me feeling bored – like reading and journaling (double win with journaling!) this helped me use that time to process things better but also stopped me feeling bored because I had something to do instead of aimlessly watching TV.
I also had a habit of eating mindlessly in front of the TV which was connected to emotional eating and that ‘release’ we all need at the end of a busy day. Getting more conscious about that time and having a cuppa and a small snack instead of the mindless eating really helped me change that pattern.
Also having an earlier night helped – being knackered makes sitting with those uncomfortable feelings a lot harder!
I figured out how my deeper mindset was making me emotionally eat
The most impactful thing I did to stop emotional eating was beginning to understand the role my mindset played in my behaviours around food. This really links into point two above because a lot of this was identifying the beneath the surface feelings that can sometimes go unnoticed even when we’re looking for them.
When I started to understand, process and let go of a lot of hidden emotions and feelings – all stemming from experiences I had as a child and teenager connected to food, my body image and self worth – I was able to totally shift how I related to food.
As a whole bunch of this is in our subconscious mind, I needed to use certain tools to help me clear those emotional patterns out – and when I did everything changed.
This is something I cover in depth in my Mindset Makeover Course – our mindset really is the foundation of our whole lives, including how we relate to food and our behaviours with it!
I really hope this post has given you lots to think about. I know how crappy emotional eating can make you feel, especially that horrible feeling of guilt and feeling totally stuffed and bloated in your body. You can start and change all of that slowly, I hope some of these tips have given you some ideas but if you’d like to go more in depth check out my totally free 5 day mindset course below to get started!
Have you ever struggled with emotional eating? What have you discovered that helps?