Could You Be An Emotional Eater?
What do you do when you’re feeling down, stressed, tired or just plain bored? Reach for chocolate or biscuits to make yourself feel better? If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. In fact, research suggests that 75% of our eating habits are led by our emotions. This isn’t a problem if it happens just occasionally but what happens when our emotions start to take over our eating habits? Are we simply feeding our feelings? Elsa Jones explains all.
What’s Motherhood Got To Do With It?
Often when we are at our weakest points emotionally we make our worst food choices. As mums know, broken sleep, early mornings and the constant demands of looking after children and a household can leave you tired, lonely, and craving comfort foods like tea/coffee, scones and chocolate to keep yourself going.
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Of course it does us no harm to indulge in food cravings now and again, however, it can lead to problems if we allow our emotions (e.g. stress, frustration etc.) to dictate our food choices on a regular basis to the point where it starts to affect our weight and health.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe emotions (often negative), such as stress, anger, boredom, sadness, tiredness and loneliness. However, emotional eating can also be linked to positive feelings too such as reward (‘it’s the weekend!’) romance and celebration. So for example treating yourself to a pizza and chocolate ice-cream on a Friday night as a reward for ‘getting through the week’.
READ NEXT: 10 Positive Affirmations to Boost Your Self-Worth
Why Is It A Problem?
If you’re struggling to manage your weight, emotional eating can seriously sabotage your weight loss efforts because it’s a vicious cycle - your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for pigging out, you feel bad, and you overeat again. As a Nutritional Therapist, I see so many people trapped in this cycle, which is why I believe that getting a handle on any tendency to eat in response to emotions is one of the most important factors in achieving long-term weight management.
READ NEXT: 6 Ways To Boost Your Body Positivity
So How Do You Know If You Are You An Emotional Eater?
Cast your eye over the statements below, the more statements you can relate to, the more likely it is that emotional eating is a factor for you. To take the full test & get a result score, log onto www.loveyourselfwell.ie
Are You An Emotional Eater?
I eat junk foods and/or overeat when:
- I’m feeling down or browned off
- I’m trying to postpone doing something I don’t feel like doing
- I’m tired and need a pick me up
- I feel stressed, overwhelmed or frustrated
- I need some ‘me time’
- I’m bored and can’t think of anything better to do
- To reward myself after a tough day/week
- To bring some joy and pleasure into my day
- To give myself something to look forward to
- To fill a void
How To Overcome Emotional Eating
Learn how to differentiate between hunger, desire and cravings.
Many of us have difficulty distinguishing between true hunger, a desire to eat and a craving. But it’s vital that you know how to differentiate between them, so here’s how:
- If you haven’t eaten for hours, your stomach feels empty and is rumbling that’s hunger.
- If you’ve just eaten a full meal but you fancy having seconds, that’s a desire.
- If you have a sudden and strong urge to eat something specific that’s a craving.
Identify Your Emotional Triggers
One of the best ways to identify your own personal triggers is to keep a food-mood journal. Write down what you ate, how much, and how you felt before you ate (e.g. bored, tired, happy, worried, sad, stressed) and whether you were really hungry or just eating for comfort. Through journaling, you'll start to see patterns emerging between what you feel and what you eat. You’ll also be able to identify whether particular circumstances, people or events act as triggers. The more you get to know your triggers, the stronger position you’ll be in to put plans in place to overcome them.
Acknowledge A Craving
The next time you have a strong urge to eat something unhealthy, take a moment to stop and think before you act. Acknowledge what’s going on. Tell yourself ‘This feeling is just a craving, it’s strong and uncomfortable but it’s not an emergency and it will pass’. In fact, cravings reach their peak after 20 minutes at which point they lose their power and start to pass.
Find A Distraction
Do you remember a time when a natural distraction interrupted your craving and later you were glad you hadn’t eaten? Maybe a friend called or you’re child demanded attention. By the time you had finished with what you had to do, your craving had weakened or passed! Next time you experience a craving, place your focus on a distracting activity - phone a friend, go for a walk, play with your child, do a chore, write an e-mail etc. You’ll be surprised how quickly the craving will subside.
Beware Of ‘All Or Nothing’ Thinking
It’s hard to be good all of the time, we’re all human and sometimes we don’t eat the way we should. Taking an ‘all or nothing’ approach to diet never works for the long term so I’d suggest that you aim to stick to a healthy eating plan for at least 80% of the time. Doing some exercise will help offset any potential weight gain as long as you don’t ‘pig out’ on the more lenient days. The 80/20 rule is a good way to achieve a balanced and moderate attitude towards food and is my own personal philosophy. If you don’t feel deprived, you’ll be less likely to pig out.
Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself
At times you may feel resentful or hard done by if you feel that everyone else seems to be able to eat whatever they want – except you. However, this simply isn’t true! Remind yourself that the vast majority of people do have to watch what they eat and exercise in order to stay slim. To counteract any feelings of unfairness, repeat the following lines to yourself: ‘Having to watch what I eat may not be fair but I have two choices. I can feel sorry for myself, stop eating healthily, never reach my goal, and continue to be unhappy with myself. Or, I can sympathise with myself but go ahead and do what I need to do’.
Focus On The Benefits Of Healthy Eating
‘Fuzzy Goals’ won’t keep you motivated for very long when temptation strikes. I’d recommend that you write down or type up exactly what being healthy & slim means to you, for example, ‘ I have more energy when I wake up, I can fit into my favourite jeans, I feel more confident, I’ve more energy to play with my kids, I’m setting a good example for the family, I feel in control’. Put the benefits somewhere where you will see them every single day e.g. on your iphone, on the inside door of your wardrobe, on your fridge, in your diary etc. As time goes on and motivation wanes, focusing on the benefits of healthy eating will help you stay focused and motivated.
Elsa Jones is a qualified Nutritional Therapist & Author of Bestselling Book ‘Goodbye Sugar’. Elsa presents weight management workshops along with clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Brennan. To register for Feb/March workshops, visit www.loveyourselfwell.ie