How to Manage Emotional Eating

14 June 2016 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Filed Under: Overeating

One of the most difficult aspects of making peace with food and eating is managing emotional or comfort eating. Few of us are able to totally overcome it and most of us will use food from time to time to cope. I often say emotional eating does not need to be emotional overeating. We can use food to soothe our negative emotions in a mindful way, you can read more about how to do that here.

We need to remind ourselves that emotional eating is not a problem with food or eating. It is a soothing problem. We need distraction, comfort, soothing from a difficult situation or emotion. Our core need is not to eat, but to calm down and feel better.  When our needs are not being met, food becomes very enticing. Eating makes us feel good and that distracts us from stressful situations or feelings of boredom, anxiety and frustration.

If you would like to manage emotional eating (I don’t like using the word overcome or end because when we don’t overcome emotional eating, we feel bad and beat ourselves up) it is helpful to have a plan in place to use other means to soothe or distract ourselves other than eating when we have difficult moments.

Here are some of my favourite questions that you can ask yourself when you have the urge to eat emotionally…

First step is to STOP, BREATHE and THINK and ASK:

  • Am I hungry?

If the answer is YES, the next question becomes…

  • What would satisfy me right now?
  • What do I have available?
  • What would feel good in my body?

If the answer is NO, I am not hungry, then the next question becomes…

  • What do I need instead?
  • What do I really, really want?
  • What am I really hungry for? (sleep, rest, fun, connection, reassurance, comfort?)
  • Am I looking for what I need in the right place?
  • What would be better than food right now?
  • What could I do now instead of eat? (see list below)
  • Do I need nurturing or nourishment in this moment?

You could also try saying to yourself one of the statements below:

  • Eating won’t solve this problem, it will only distract me temporarily!
  • I accept that I cannot change how I feel in this moment.
  • This is a difficult moment and it will pass.
  • I accept that I am not perfect when it comes to my eating and that I am tempted to use food to soothe myself and that’s okay.
  • I accept my negative emotions with all their ups and downs.
  • I am learning to cope with difficult emotions without eating.
  • Not eating makes difficult emotions more intense but I have the courage to feel the feelings.

The important thing is that if you do eat to soothe your emotions — DO NOT beat yourself up.

Remember to acknowledge yourself every time you do something different to cope with emotions, that way you are creating new neural pathways.

Instead of eating, you could also do one of the things listed below…

  • Take 3 – 5 deep breaths inhaling and exhaling very slowly.
  • Journal your feelings or download all your thoughts on paper, for example – what is going on for you that is making you want to eat.
  • Take time out and play with your child, dog or cat.
  • Go outside and look at the sky, the bird and the plants (whilst breathing deeply).
  • Play a song you enjoy (create a playlist for these moments).
  • Get creative …. draw, sew, paint, tidy a drawer, get out a puzzle or get a mindful colouring-in book!
  • Have a list of 5 people you can call or text in moments like these…
  • Find a soothing object (soft toy, blanket, scarf) you can turn to for comfort (I confess I still have my baby blanket!!)
  • Put your hands on your heart, rub your hands together, put your hand on your cheek.
  • Move your body in some way, walk, jump, skip or go into pose of the child or downward dog.
  • Light a candle or burn some incense.
  • Watch an inspiring TED talk – make a list of them so they are easy to go to when the need arises.

Above all, whatever you do, be fiercely kind to yourself!

Be well and be mindful!

Xen

Tired of overeating and feeling out of control around food? Dieting and restriction hasn’t worked for you? Do you want to find peace and freedom around food? Book a free Online Intro Session with me or join my “Food Freedom” 8 Week Programme (available in Jo’burg & Pretoria).

You can also sign up for my free Mindful Eating “Slightly Different” Advent Calendar to enjoy over the festive season.

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