Emotional eating is one of those things we rarely mention when we’re talking about healthy eating and our daily habits related to eating. However, it represents an unhealthy way of coping with emotional stress for an important percentage of people.
Emotional eating can be defined as the act of eating to cope with a situation when something bad, or something you perceive as bad, happens. A very common depiction of emotional eating can be found in Hollywood movies, where a girl ends her relationship with her long-term boyfriend, and the only way she can deal with this situation is by eating a large tub of ice cream.
While this representation might seem somewhat innocent, there are actually two big issues with the vicious cycle which arises from such behaviour. The first is that the foods people usually consider comforting are carbohydrates, often loaded with sugars. Admittedly, neither of these two groups are bad per-se, however, it’s mostly the highly processed fast food snacks which find their way to people’s mouths .
Obviously, it’s a bad idea to do that frequently and continuously. With that said, it’s important to acknowledge that there are a few ways to conquer emotional eating and deal with hardships in an effective manner.
Find your triggers
One of the most important solutions is finding the triggers, the reasons for your bouts of emotional eating. People who are naturally more neurotic will experience an identical situation in a drastically different manner than someone else. An important aspect of their interpretation is that they will acknowledge a certain situation as much more emotionally demanding. What I mean by that is, something John wouldn’t perceive as emotionally draining, being shouted at by his boss for example, could be perceived very differently by Jack. He would consider the event of being shouted at by his boss as the worst thing that could happen to him, spending a good portion of his time thinking about it. Both of them would then have a different response to the event. Whilst John could succumb to emotional eating, Jack wouldn’t be inclined to do that.
As said above, by knowing which events in your life tend to trigger your bouts of emotional eating, you’re making a valiant effort and a good step towards being able to prevent them from happening in the future. For those of you who love being systematic, you can write down the events that trigger an emotional eating bout. This is a good way of recognizing your triggers in the future.
Be aware of your emotions
This step goes hand in hand with the first step. Simply put, many people are actually not aware of their own emotions, or what they experience at any given moment . It’s very likely you’re among them as well. A fun and interesting experiment to prove this point can be done by anyone. Pick a few random times during the day and write down what you’re experiencing and what you’re feeling. At the beginning, you will probably notice you’re actually very bad at it. Many researchers, who research how and what people experience, can attest to this. We were never any good at describing our experiences from the “how do we experience” perspective to begin with. Therefore, staying aware of what we’re experiencing will become increasingly important in the ever-more taxing environment of the 21st century.
But there’s another reason why being aware of your own emotions is important. Let’s take this example: You’ve already written down different triggers. You’ve noticed that you’re very likely to succumb to binge eating when you’re angry.
In situation A, you know being angry will potentially trigger an emotional eating bout. You react by stopping for a second and taking slow and deep breaths. You think about what just happened and what it means to you, and especially whether you really have to eat to handle the situation.
In situation B, you didn’t write down any of your trigger events and have no clue when you’re more likely to succumb to emotional eating. You get angry and you start eating. Before you know it, you’ve cleaned out the cupboards. This leads me to point number three .
Try staying in the present
Staying in the present is becoming an increasingly important concept in science. Mindfulness, as it’s often being presented , has been part of Eastern meditative practices for hundreds of years. However, only in recent decades has it received interest in the scientific community. Currently, one of its most applicable uses is mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy. It has proven to be very effective for stress and anxiety.
Given the fact that emotional eating is being triggered through environmental stress, having a weapon that can reduce the levels of our environmental stress in daily life, is a welcome addition. But not everyone is keen on undergoing an actual therapy itself, mostly because it can be costly. Simply being mindful; present in the moment and observing your own thoughts in an objective manner, can already help with stress. Furthermore, the best part of mindfulness is that, not only is it helpful for dealing with emotional eating, it can also be applied to a wide range of different circumstances. So, by learning mindfulness, you receive a powerful weapon to enhance your daily life, as well as a good tool to reduce your levels of environmental stress.
Don’t have unhealthy food in your home
This one is as straightforward as it gets. Many people actually fail to realize a simple truth and “life-hack” widely known in the health and bodybuilding industry; you can’t eat what’s not there. What this means is, even if you do succumb to emotional eating, if the only snack foods you’re left with at home are a pack of carrots and walnuts, that’s nearly not as severe as eating a whole bag of chips or something similarly unhealthy. Not buying unhealthy food might be hard, but by eliminating the unhealthy food options you’re making one by one, you can surely lower the amount of calories you’re eating.
By practicing any of the above four steps, you can drastically reduce how emotional eating will affect your life in the future. Be sure to give it time and reflect on the progress you’re making . The more thought you give to this process, the more likely you are to succeed.