Welcome to day 9!
Today I want to talk about quite a tricky topic: Emotional Eating.
When most people think about emotional eating, they are usually thinking about the extreme end of the spectrum nearing on disordered eating. You know, where someone is bingeing, putting on lots of weight as a result, or it’s causing them a huge amount of distress.
However, using food to manage emotions is actually pretty normal. Almost everyone does it to some degree.
Have you ever surprised someone with a birthday cake? Yep, you used food to manage their feelings!
Look, food tastes good and makes us feel good, it can have positive emotional associations, it can help us feel more connected to a specific group of people, and it can also help us feel more disconnected from ourselves through distraction, rebellion, and disassociation.
If you take all of that into account, I’m sure you can understand why it’s such an extremely common way to manage unwanted emotions or feelings like stress, anxiety, and loneliness.
Most experts agree that using food to manage your emotions isn’t an inherent problem.
Like with the birthday cake example, it can be pretty innocent and even beneficial.
However, it does become more of a problem:
– When we do it excessively. So either too frequently, or too extremely, or both.
– When we aren’t in control or feel compelled to do it without much choice in the matter.
– When we can’t stop ourselves or won’t stop even when full or satisfied.
– When we don’t have any other ways of managing our feelings.
I think that last point is one of the most important ones, so I’ll repeat it again.
Emotional eating becomes more of a problem when we don’t have any other ways of managing our feelings. This is because we will end up relying on food more and more to make us feel better.
The best case scenario is that we use food as a minor tool in our toolbox for managing our emotions amongst a diverse collection of other tools (including healthier ones that make us better such as exercise, being creative, being loving, talking about our issues, and so on).
I’m going to briefly walk you through 5 steps that you can take to overcome emotional eating, but I highly suggest that you read the full article on our website which I will link below this video so that you can go through each step one by one.
Before we dive in, I do want to emphasise that emotional eating is not something to be taken lightly or seen as something that you can overcome overnight.
You don’t just read a 5-step-article and then wake up the next morning “cured”. Overcoming emotional eating takes lots of regular practice.
In fact, “overcoming” looks a lot more like making teeeny tiny steps of progress over several months or even years as opposed to never having to deal with emotional eating ever again.
OK, SO STEP 1: IDENTIFY WHY YOU EAT:
Are you truly hungry? Or… are you just peck-ish? Are you bored? Emotional? Eating out of habit? Eating because everyone else is doing it and it feels like the right thing to do?
If you can get into the habit of consulting with yourself on why you are wanting to eat before each meal, then you can become more self-aware of what your triggers might be.
A super simple strategy is to use a Food Journal for a couple of days. This involves writing down what you ate, when, and what you were feeling or thinking when you ate.
Keep it super simple and do-able. Something like “Lunch was chicken and veg at 2pm… followed by a large chocolate.” and then “Feeling rushed and anxious with work. Urge to eat everything in sight is strong.”
When looking for links between specific feelings and your eating habits, you may find it helpful to focus on the H.A.L.T. acronym. It stands for Hungry, Angry (or anxious), Lonely, and Tired.
These emotions are some of the most common triggers that cause people to eat emotionally.
Simply asking yourself if you are experiencing any of these emotions whenever you eat is an extremely effective way to identify what your main triggers are so that you can work towards solving them.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY WHAT FOODS TEND TO BE YOUR DOWNFALL:
The Food Journal also useful at helping you identify what foods you tend to emotionally eat.
I’m guessing you know more or less what they might be already, and I’m betting it’s not vegetables, right?
Maybe something more like chocolate, or pasta, or rusks? Some people will just eat anything and everything, but for most, it’s usually very specific high-calorie, salty, fatty, or sugary foods.
If you struggle with frequent emotional eating and it happens to be chocolate (for example), then I suggest that you don’t keep chocolate in your house or anywhere nearby if you can help it because that’s just asking for trouble.
As your emotional eating improves and you gain additional ways to manage your emotions, you might be able to slowly re-introduce your trigger foods to your household.
So much of our decisions are actually shaped by our environment. If the first thing you see when you walk into the kitchen is a big jar of cookies, you are more likely to eat cookies regularly. Likewise, if the first thing you see when you walk into the kitchen is a big bowl of fruit and veg, you are more likely to eat fruit and veg. This has nothing to do with willpower, talent, or genetics, and everything to do with your environment.
If you REALLY want a chocolate (or whatever your trigger is) as a planned treat, go out, buy a small portion, eat it happily and mindfully, then come home back to a nice clean house.
STEP 3: IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS FOR EMOTIONAL EATING:
Apart from specific food cravings, are you triggered by certain feelings, emotions, environments, people around you, or times of day?
If you can identify these triggers, then you can either do your best to avoid them (just like with the trigger foods above), or plan ahead to mitigate the damage.
Avoid that route past the petrol station coming home from work where you like to buy some liquorice. Spend less time around those people who you tend to binge drink with and then visit McDonalds at 2am. If you know you are going to be stressed and working late, make sure that you have a bunch of healthy, tasty, and easy to eat foods available like fruit, protein shakes, pre-washed and pre-chopped veggies, and so on.
This is all about learning from your past mistakes and taking steps to prevent it from happening again. As the saying goes, “The only real failure is if you fail to learn from it.”
STEP 4: FIND BETTER WAYS TO MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS:
Emotional eating is simply an emotion management strategy.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite normal. For many, it’s not a big problem because it’s just ONE of the ways that they manage their emotions emotions. However, it becomes more of a problem when it’s one of the only (or the only) way that you manage your emotions.
Apart from actually taking steps to address the source of your emotional problems, work on identifying one or two alternative strategies to deal with the emotions that you are trying to manage.
Keep in mind that consistently implementing one or two alternatives and slowly building your way up to more is usually more effective and more sustainable than trying to do AAAAAALL the healthy stuff all at once.
STEP 5: LEARN TO TOLERATE DISCOMFORT:
In our Sleekgeek Coaching Program, we call this the Discomfort Deal.
“When you feel the urge to eat emotionally, just take five minutes and sit with that urge. Set a timer if you like. During this time, simply notice what you are thinking or feeling, whatever comes up. And notice that you feel uncomfortable, but it’s okay. After that five minutes, you can make any choice that feels right.“
This is a form of delayed gratification, which is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward (or goal).
A growing body of research is showing that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a bunch of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.
Practicing the 5-minute Discomfort Deal is an easy way to practice delayed gratification, helping you become better and better at it. It may simply start as delaying your emotional eating for 5 minutes, but over time it might become delaying it for 30 minutes, then 2 hours, then more than a day… After which you may well have forgotten about what you were feeling emotional about and no longer need desire food to help you manage those emotions.
So for today, there are 3 things that I want you to do.
First, I want you to see if you can come up with 1 more emotional management strategy that you can add to your toolbox. Something that you can commit to doing whenever you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed or emotional. Check out the full article on our website for a list of ideas if you need some help.
Second, I want you to keep a very simple food journal for the rest of the challenge. Simply write down what you eat, when you eat, and what you are feeling when you eat.
Third, play around with the discomfort deal, seeing if you can delay that gratification for a short time, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. You will quickly see just how empowering it is. It’s a great way to flex that willpower muscle which will help you hugely in the long run.
That’s all for now. See you tomorrow! Cheers