How to End the Emotional Eating Cycle
If you’ve ever reached for a bag of Cheeto’s when you’re depressed, or rage-binged on a pint of ice cream or grabbed the box of crackers on the counter when you’re bored, then you know all about what emotional eating looks and feels like.
Who can forget Tina Fey on SNL uproariously eating an entire cake, as her emotional response to her despair about the Charlottesville tragedy.
It’s funny because it’s an exaggerated version of what many of us do every single day, just to cope with life’s events.
But in my personal experience, the first step in dealing with emotional eating is to stop demonizing emotional eating in the first place.
We are all emotional eaters. We infuse emotions into everything we do, including eating.
It only becomes problematic when we use food as a surrogate for other important things that we’re not getting in our lives (intimacy, community, fulfillment etc.).
Think about it. What is a way to positively reframe emotional eating?
By remembering all the loving memories that have been created through the food and the eating experience:
the graduation BBQ’s
the drinks out with the girls
the red popsicle lipstick you outlined on your mouth at the pool in the summer of 1986
the smell of your Mom’s baking.
And so much more. Emotional eating is also steeped in pleasure and fun and joy. Yet, we only focus on how horrible it is when there is a negative emotion attached to the behavior. That does us all a disservice and it also gives food so much more power than it should have. By vilifying the emotional eating, you also let it loom larger in your mind and it can lead you to even fear having any emotions in the first place. After all, if your instinct is to binge-eat when you’re sad and you find emotional eating intolerable, then you might compartmentalize or push aside strong emotions just to avoid it.
There is another way.
Here’s my process (yes, this is the very process I use with clients and you’re getting all this amazing info for free!)
Identify and label the emotion.
Stop and let yourself fully experience the emotion even if it sucks. Remember emotions have a beginning, middle and end even though it feels inexorable at times.
Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique - 4-count inhale through your nose, hold for a count of 7, and breathe out through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat 4 times. What this does is activate your prefrontal cortex (your rational brain), dampens the flight-or-flight response, and also creates a barrier between you, the emotion, and the instinctual response (grabbing for food for comfort or to change your mood).
Close your eyes and ask yourself what you really need right now.
If the answer is still eating, then own it and give yourself permission to eat. But, agree to do it consciously and mindfully and allow yourself to do it without any guilt or fear. Calm, conscious and intentional eating can alert the brain more loudly when you’ve had enough and can prevent you from bingeing or compulsively eating.
What I do for my clients is have them write down a “sizzle list” of anything big and small that gives them pleasure, joy, meaning, satisfaction and contentment. Anything from hugging my kids to feeling the leaves crunch under my feet in Autumn. (This is an ongoing list that you can add to or change at any time.)
Then, they choose 2–3 items per week from that list to focus on actively doing. When we fill our days with meaningful pursuits, we generate natural dopamine instead of the false fix that occurs from emotional eating.
Is this a quick-fix solution? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Any program, expert or book that tells you that you can overcome emotional eating in 6 simple steps is simply duping you.
Emotional eating can be painful and shame-inducing.
That is some really tough stuff to sift through and deal with. It’s hard. Working on understanding the root causes of your eating habits is hard work too.
Pick your hard.
Here’s something that is super easy though. It’s registering for my 4 step process for empowered eating and peace with food. Go here to join or click the image below.
Join me for a free hour-long masterclass on the 4 foundational steps I’ve created to spark joy, find confidence and completely transform your relationship with food.
In this free webinar, run by yours truly, you’ll not only learn easy and hands-on techniques for bringing more mindfulness to your eating but also:
👉4 Hacks for regulating your hunger hormones to help you work WITH your body and your appetite
👉Why you keep overeating and binging despite everything you know about health and nutrition
👉10 Ways to feel more confident in what, when and how you eat, even if you've tried everything else.
As soon as you register, you’ll also receive my free Masterclass Action Plan which will help get you prepared for the webinar and also hone in on your own specific challenges with food.