You’ve experienced it before. You’re watching your favorite TV show and suddenly you find that you’ve eaten the whole bag of chips, or, after a stressful day at work, you start eating the Ben & Jerry’s straight from the carton. When did our emotions start deciding what we eat? Getting to the bottom of emotional eating will help you make healthier choices. Look at four ways we use food to handle emotions:
1. Stress eating: When you're having a bad day (emotional stressor), you eat and eat till you end “food coma” – numbing your body in order to block out the unpleasant emotion.
2. Boredom Eating – You're waiting for an appointment or a phone call or simply procrastinating, and suddenly you're nibbling everything in sight. In this case, the emotion of boredom is relieved by this "nervous" eating.
3. Unconscious eating – You may find that you've finished off that entire carton of ice cream and you don't remember how it happened. You are blocking some unpleasant feelings---and at the same time detaching yourself from your own actions.
4. Fear Eating –When you don’t want to face something in your life, distracting yourself with food helps you avoid coping with the uncomfortable situation.
It’s important to remember that your cravings are a window to your emotions. Emotional eating is really not about the food, its about what’s behind your cravings. The question then becomes: “What is my food covering up exactly?” If you eat emotionally, whether it is stress eating, boredom eating, unconscious eating or fear eating, you are shutting down your present awareness, your consciousness, in order to escape a current state of anxiety. While this may work for awhile, it only pushes your emotion down deeper and creates more stress and anxiety in the body. Addressing your emotions is the first key to putting an end to emotional eating. Consider that you have the following choices:
1. You can go on ignoring your emotions and letting them live deep within you. This will keep you in the vicious circle of emotional eating. Your relationships with food will serve only as a tool to hide your emotions rather than as something that nourishes you and provides you energy.
2. You can acknowledge your emotions by allowing them to come to the surface. It may be difficult and painful, but the process of addressing your emotions will allow you to heal from the stress, fear or anxiety.
Emotional eating, and the cravings that lead to it, are not about food at all. They are attempts to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions. And we all know, although it's easy to forget, that the relief only works for a short time. Getting a handle on those unpleasant emotions is the key to putting an end to emotional eating. Here are some quick tips to help break the emotional eating cycle:
1. When that craving hits, take a minute to find out where it comes from. Will eating right now really solve the underlying issue?
2. Take 5 deep breaths before eating. Relaxing will help you to see more clearly what you are doing.
3. Chew. This slows you down and gives you time to realize what you are doing.
4. Create a list of comfort activities. It may be taking a walk, calling a friend, punching a pillow or sitting in silence. Comfort activities are much more likely to fill your body's need than "comfort foods."
5. Plan ahead. Know what triggers your stress and have your pantry stocked with healthy food like whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
By making these smarter choices your food will nourish you and give you energy, not add to your problems.
Suzanne Monroe, HHC, is a Food Coach and owner of Real Life Food. Suzanne helps busy people figure out what to eat and how to have more energy through her nutrition coaching programs. For more information on Suzanne’s programs, workshops, and recipes, or for a free food coaching session, visit www.reallifefood.com.