We’ve all been there. There is an emotional trigger and without even really thinking, suddenly you are eating. The first bite tastes great but then you barely taste anything.
Listen, you aren’t alone. A lot of people suffer through emotional eating silently. It can affect ANYONE. You don’t have to be heavy to be a sufferer. Food serves as a form of pleasure for all of us. Well, most of us. I love when people say, “I really just view food as fuel.” I want to say, “Well, kudos to you buddy! Can’t say we are on the same page with that one.” Just like music, sex and exercise, the acting of eating releases some seriously awesome chemicals in our brain. It makes sense that when we are having an emotional response to something, we would be drawn to something that feels good (at least temporarily). The compulsive act of eating can also temporarily distract us from emotions that may seem overwhelming to us. These emotions aren’t always negative either. Sometimes, positive emotions can be uncomfortable or overwhelming. So, unconsciously, we may decide NOT to feel them, but rather to “numb out” with food. We may decide NOT to engage with our emotions by reaching for food.
The thing is, this “numbing out” only lasts for a short time and those feelings will find a way to surface. As Debbie Ford, one of my favorite speakers and authors, explains, “What you won’t be with won’t let you be” and “what you resist persists”. Over time, this type of unconscious stuffing not only leaves your emotions unresolved, but leaves you heavier, more lethargic and in a piss-poor relationship with your food. When we get in the habit of using food as a crutch not to feel, we may be unwittingly creating vicious cycles and a co-dependent relationship with food. Weight gain, disease and disordered eating are just a few of the repercussions. Oftentimes, this type of co-dependent relationship creates unbridled anxiety and feeds the beast of repressed emotion. If untamed, this beast can sabotage your best efforts for achieving your best body and your best life.
Do you recognize any of these patterns when it comes to your eating habits?
Well, here are some tips to start to deal and break these patterns for good.
1) NOTICE AND RECORD YOUR PATTERNS
Start to take note of WHEN you are making poor decisions. Food journaling is a wonderful tool. By recording your habits, you can start to notice the patterns in your choices. It seems like a small and trivial thing to do but it can be illuminating. A former client of mine chronicled her choices and was surprised to find that she mostly binged on pizza or fried foods when she missed her boyfriend or when she had been rejected from an acting project. She was repressing these emotions by telling herself she didn’t have the right to feel them. Her emotional eating was tied in a tight knot to loneliness and rejection. By realizing this, she could start to pre-emptively deal with these situations by addressing ways to restructure her relationship and handle the emotional stress of rejection in her career.
2) FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS AND THEN RELEASE THEM
Bananas, right? Feel your emotions? Okay, this may seem obvious but sometimes it is easier said than done when the emotion at bay is less than desirable. Let’s say you find yourself reaching for a tube of Pringles but it doesn’t FEEL like a choice. It actually feels like the Pringles are choosing YOU. Pry your arm away from the cabinet, step out of the kitchen and take a moment to take note of what is going on in your body. Close your eyes. Breathe. Actually ask yourself, “What is this feeling? Where am I holding tension in my body right now? Breathe into the tension and simply allow yourself to feel what is going on. Is it anxiety? Is it loneliness? Rejection? Creative tension? If you can’t release it through laughing, crying or yelling a bit, then WRITE IT ON DOWN. Take a paper and start writing. Let it all spill out without judging, just stream of consciousness. Once you can recognize it, decide to feel that emotion and then consciously release it.
If you find you still want the comfort of food after releasing it on paper, go on. Have the food, but only after you attempt to feel what is going on in your body.
OR, even better…
This is a triple-whammy, grand-slam hit here! Not only are you breaking the habit by actually physically interrupting the trajectory of your action but you are also releasing pent-up emotional energy AND creating an insane flow of feel good endorphins. You know how when you are angry, running or punching can feel damn good? Or how when you are really down and go to yoga, you might cry a bit as you start moving and breathing deeply? You release the tension that is formed from suppressing emotion. So, when in doubt, put your sneakers on, leave the house and start walking, jogging, or
heading to practice at your yoga mat. Bonus—you are actually burning calories instead ingesting them. Emotions are okay! Use them to fuel your workouts when they are less than ideal and you will be dripping with serotonin by the end.
So, what happens when you are mid emo-eating session, and you have an “aha!” moment and you want to stop?
4) CHOOSE PROTEIN
People don’t tend to binge on protein. Think about it. When you are stressed out, do you want to chow down on a turkey leg? Probably not. You are much more likely to go for a starchy carb or a high-dairy, high-fat, sugary food. These foods elevate blood sugar very quickly so for a few minutes, you are flying high until your blood sugar crashes. Within twenty minutes, you feel worse than you did before. Foods with a high-dairy and sugar content can feel calming because of the drug-like sugar buzz combined with the amino-acid, tryptophan (found in dairy). Tryptophan is known for its calming and sleep-inducing properties. For a few moments you are zenned out but before you even notice, you have finished a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
From a physiological standpoint, the more sugar you eat, the more you will crave. Stop the sugar and carb cravings immediately by changing it up with protein. Eat some sliced turkey, a hardboiled egg or greek-yogurt with some stevia and cinnamon. The higher the protein content, the more you are interrupting the fast metabolization of sugar and carbs in your blood, the less desire you will feel to continue eating the sugar or starch. Plus, protein contains tryptophan as well, in addition to a bunch of other amino-acids that stabilize blood sugar and elevate mood.
5) KEEP EMO-BINGING FOOD OUT OF THE HOUSE
Just like you probably aren’t go to binge on protein, you probably aren’t going to binge on delicious and calming herbal teas either, or broth based soups (filling and calorically sparse), or green smoothies, veggies and fruit. Keep the crap out of the house! By crap, I mean sugary and starchy foods. I don’t care if it says organic, fat-free or low-carb on the package. Get it out! Whatever you tend to go for when you are down or anxious or angry, KEEP IT AWAY! The harder it is to get into your mouth, the less likely you will unconsciously start noshing.
6) PRE-EMPT YOUR ANXIETY
Stress-eating can be one of the most difficult to navigate because stress can permeate almost any area of our lives. We can find it in our finances, our careers, our relationships, or our homes. Stress can be found pretty much anywhere we choose to find it. I notice stress is my weak spot with emotional eating. I don’t emo-eat when I’m sad, depressed or lonely. I emo-eat when I am anxious, nervous and fearful, when the adrenaline is pumping, the cold-sweats start, my heart starts pounding and it feels like I’m an actually in danger (I’m never in danger). I notice that I will eat anything I can find to calm myself down, to stop my hands from shaking, to stop the discomfort of this heightened sensation.
By identifying the fear-based thought processes that I create for myself, I am able to shift perspective and cope with my stress but this is a process and takes time. In the mean time, I also incorporate daily calming exercises to center myself at the beginning of the day. This has also worked beautifully for a number of my clients. It could be daily morning exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, walking to the park with your dog and cup of coffee in the morning, listening to calming music as you get ready for work. Personally, I love listening to guided meditation and lighting some candles before I go anywhere near my smart phone or email. Despite waking up earlier, it feels luxurious and gives me time to get in a good place at the beginning of the day so I won’t be knocked off my center as easily. The trick is to COMMIT to these practices every day. It takes practice to break the patterns of how we respond to the world around us. We must actually PRACTICE.
So, armed with these tools, we can all start to combat the hold emotional eating has on us. Start today. Start now.
What tool will you try?
Rock On and Be Well,