Battling Emotional Eating: Identifying the Cause and Taking Control

You would be amazed by the things that can impact your eating routine. For example, did you know that how your friends eat can make a huge difference in what and how you choose your own meals and snacks? It isn’t just when you are with them, either…you are more likely to follow that same pattern when you are alone.

Other factors are also involved, such as your emotional wellbeing. A fascinating study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has set about creating a scale for establishing the severity of emotional eating, both through restriction and binge eating.

Not everyone who struggles with emotional eating is suffering from an eating disorder. In fact, most of us are doing what we have been taught through endless conditioning, media messages and diet culture to do: obsess over food. It makes us happy, it makes us sad, it is a reward, it is a punishment. When it comes to our dietary choices it sometimes feels like we can’t win.

The good news is that this is not an insurmountable issue. Many of us have a tendency to turn to snacks when confronted with difficult emotions or situations (myself included). With some insight and work we can all overcome emotional eating for good and take control of our cravings and food choices.

The Importance Of Diet

There is a common saying that weight loss is 70% in the kitchen, 30% in the gym. I don’t agree. While I am a big fan of fitness for the sake of remaining healthy and active, weight loss is 100% a dietary effort. If you fix your eating habits you will lose weight, even if you never step foot on a treadmill.

Emotional eating is such a hindrance to that goal. I know this on a personal level. After both of my boys were born, I struggled to maintain a normal eating routine. Lack of sleep, the stresses of parenthood, and increased nutritional needs due to breastfeeding all converged to make me a ravenous emotional eater who would rather go for a doughnut than an apple every time.

In the end it took changing my overall mindset about eating that allowed me to lose the baby weight. Yet, that hasn’t entirely fixed my emotional eating problem. It is still a struggle I have almost daily. Tough commute on my way home from a long day? I want to stop at a gas station and grab a giant bag of M & M’s. Fight with my husband? Gee, a bowl of ice cream sounds good. A screw up on the job? I bet I could eat an entire stuffed crust double pepperoni pizza and fall into a food coma.

Notice what I did there. I gave three scenarios, which is important. That shows my emotional triggers that make me want to turn to food for comfort. That is the first step in curing the compulsion: you have to understand where it is coming from.

Isolating Triggers That Make Us Binge

If you think back to your last emotional eating episode you may be able to figure out what it was that triggered the event. Let’s say your last binge was on chocolate ice cream. One bowl turned into half a carton, leaving you sick and not feeling so good about yourself. But were you feeling good before you did it?

Looking a little earlier in the day there might have been something that happened to put you off your game. Maybe you were told off by your boss for a mistake that was actually due to your coworker, leaving you frustrated, angry and hurt. Or you and your mother got in a fight over the phone over something petty.

Every day brings its own level of stress. Those events, big and small, can push us to start eating in order to gain a bit of pleasure in what is otherwise a long and tiring week. By knowing what events tend to push our buttons we can start making a plan to better cope with things.

What To Do Instead Of Eat

There are several directions to take when figuring out how to battle your emotional eating, but there’s one method that I feel is definitely worth trying. It sounds trite, but I remember this poster my aunt had in her home. She had been a long time smoker and finally gave up the habit. The poster, which was framed and on the wall next to her porch door where she used to go out for a cigarette, said “Things to do instead of smoking”.

There were about a hundred different suggestions, ranging from “Take a walk” to “Create a collage”. That idea always stuck with me and I think it could be a great exercise for anyone struggling with emotional eating.

Make yourself a list of things to do when overwhelming feelings overtake you. Having those handy will be a great reminder that the food isn’t necessary to cope with emotions.

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