Anyone who has ever found themselves pouring a glass of wine after a stressful day at work or eating a bowl of ice cream while going through a break up knows that sometimes food makes it better.
Eating is emotional. It can make us feel happy, momentarily, because food that tastes good lights up the pleasure center area in our brains.
It is no wonder many of us struggle to avoid eating things we like, even when we are trying to lose weight or avoid sugary, fatty and high-calorie foods.
The traditional “diet” approach is to simply not eat that stuff. Eat other stuff, like chicken and broccoli and brown rice.
Ok, fine. But has chicken or broccoli or rice ever comforted you after a hard day? Probably not.
But I know chocolate has.
Think about it; how do we celebrate in our culture? We have cake on birthdays, champagne when we get married, ice cream when our team wins the baseball tournament.
Emotions and food get paired together very early on in our development, and that’s why as adults, simply saying “no” isn’t a good long-term strategy to eat better or lose weight.
Unless you address the underlying emotions as well as the coping mechanism of using food to feel better, you will never stick to any diet, long-term, ever.
Emotional eating is something almost everyone does and yet it is never talked about in the health and fitness world. Even if you manage to fight it for a while, when life gets hard, that old habit will kick in, fast.
So how do we break the cycle? The latest trendy diet or restrictive meal plan is not the way. (In fact, the stress and guilt that comes with those methods often leads to more emotional eating.)
Very often we aren’t even aware that emotions are what causes us to eat. A woman will tell me “I don’t know why, I just can’t stay away from sugar.”
It’s probably because she is tired, or stressed, or unhappy, or unfulfilled, or lonely, or bored, or all of the above.
But she may not know that’s why she can’t stick to her “diet.”
If you have struggled or are struggling with out of control cravings or uncontrolled eating, know that firstly you are not alone and secondly you should not be embarrassed or ashamed. We are all taught to use food with emotions, both good and bad.
Here are a few ways to deal with emotional eating.
- Find a good therapist. Seriously. Talking to someone who can help you dig into those internal issues is hugely valuable and effective.
- Work on slowing down. When a craving hits, before eating, ask yourself “what emotion am I feeling right now?”
- Avoid judgement, which only feeds the cycle. Say to yourself “I am eating this because I am sad,” and see it simply as a statement of fact, not a criticism.
- Consider a different action that will help you feel better. You could take a walk, hug your child or pet your dog.
- Check out the book “Why Me Want Eat” by Krista Scott-Dixon.
Emotional eating is a common struggle and there is no reason to feel ashamed. It is not something you can diet your way out of.
Changing those long-ingrained patterns and behaviors takes time and effort, but the hard work is worth it. Looking for a short cut will only leave you frustrated and reaching for the candy bar.