Emotional eating is something so many of us do without realising. And it’s often what leads to failed resolutions, abandoned healthy eating plans and a lot of unhappiness.
Let’s be honest, most of us have tried a fad diet or the latest hack from “experts” because the truth is, we all want a quick and easy fix. It’s much more appealing than hard work and effort over a longer period of time.
However, it also means we’re looking for external solutions to internal problems. Why do plans involving nutritional food that will benefit us seem so hard to stick to? Could it be because our relationship with food is emotional?
Signs that you’re an emotional eater:
You’re not hungry, but you eat anyway
Have you just eaten a big meal and now you’re tempted to pick up snacks? Are you mindlessly picking at sweet treats from a bowl or packet?
If you’re eating when your body doesn’t actually feel real hunger, it suggests that your emotions are running the show. Instead of listening to our bodies and internal cues, we’re letting our feelings decide when and what we eat.
You use food as a reward
This isn’t always a bad thing – in moderation. Going for a 3 course dinner or ordering take out to celebrate a new job or whatever else is going well is no big deal.
BUT… if you are regularly treating yourself with food that isn’t nutritious or simply more than your body needs, it’s going to have a negative impact.
You use food as relief
You might reach for food when you’re feeling stressed or have had a bad day. That stereotype of women reaching for ice cream after a break up exists for a reason – it’s eating for comfort.
I find that when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I suddenly get really hungry and want to eat constantly. Except it’s not real hunger. I want to eat to soothe my stress and I usually crave food that is not going to benefit me nutritionally.
You’re eating without realising
Perhaps you plan to eat a couple of cookies in front of the TV and before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole pack. Or you find yourself picking at food while you’re cooking and you’re actually eating much more than just what goes on your plate when you’re ready to sit down.
Why do we eat based on our emotions?
There can be a range of reasons and influences on your emotional eating habits but here are some common ones.
- Habits picked up in childhood
Perhaps your parents used food as a treat or a way to soothe you when you were upset. This can continue into adulthood where we associate food with soothing.
- A lack of mindful eating
It can be so easy to eat food when it’s nearby without realising – especially if we’re distracted by television or something else. It’s basically a lack of awareness.
- Food is the only thing you have to look forward to
How else would you treat yourself if you didn’t have access to your usual food treats? You need something to give you the feel good rush and food is often an easy option with little thought or effort involved.
Keep a food diary
Write down everything you eat and drink – EVERYTHING. This will help you be more mindful and avoid snacks that you forget about. Plus, if you combine it with a more traditional diary with your thoughts and feelings, you might spot patterns which you can then begin to find ways to break. But remember, this tool isn’t meant to fill you with shame and guilt. It’s an approach to help you be more conscious about what and how much you may (or may not) be eating, right now.
Find other ways to treat and soothe yourself
You can’t just get rid of a habit – you need to find something to replace it with. Make a list of things that are treats and a list of things that will soothe you or make you feel better when you’re feeling stressed or upset. The lists might cross over.
For example, I go and buy face masks and beauty products and have a night at home using them all. If you’re feeling anxious, going for a run or a walk could help. Go for a massage, watch your favourite films, meet a friend. I could go on forever – it’s about what makes you feel good.
Then, when you’re tempted to reward or soothe yourself with food – choose something on your lists instead.
Focus on your food
Eat when you’re sat down with no distractions. No phone or TV. You should not be doing any other tasks while eating other than talking over the dinner table. This will help eliminate mindless snacking -particularly due to boredom. If you’re not hungry enough to stop what you’re doing and sit down to eat, are you really hungry at all?
Resources we recommend:
- MyFitnessPal – I’ve used this app in the pass to keep track of what I’m eating. Easy to update and helps me stay aware and mindful.
- Freedom from Emotional Eating by Paul McKenna – Paul is a British hypnotist and behavioural scientist and he aims to help readers make lasting changes.
- The latest podcast from The Simplifiers featuring Julie Simon, LMFT, talking about emotional eating in much more depth: