Overcoming Emotional Eating

Overcoming Emotional Eating

Filed Under: Emotional Eating

9 September 2022 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Overcoming emotional eating is one of the most difficult aspects of making peace with food. Few of us are able to totally overcome or end emotional eating and most of us will still use food from time to time as a way to cope – and that is perfectly fine. We simply need to do it from a place of kindness and curiosity.

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 or 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 the solution. Eating makes us feel good (in the short term) and that distracts us from difficult emotions.

In all honesty, I don’t really like to talk about overcoming emotional eating. When we use the word overcome or end and we don’t overcome emotional eating – we feel bad and beat ourselves up. It is better to think in terms of managing emotional eating. To do this, it is helpful to have a plan in place to use other ways to soothe ourselves in addition to eating, when we experience difficult emotions.

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

The first step is to STOP, BREATHE, THINK and ASK:

  1. Am I hungry?

If the answer is YES, then ask yourself…

  1. What would satisfy me right now?
  2. What do I have available?
  3. What would feel good in my body?

If the answer is NO, I am not hungry, then ask yourself…

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

You could also try saying one of these statements to yourself:

  1. I accept that I cannot change how I feel in this moment.
  2. This is a difficult moment and it will pass.
  3. I accept that I am not perfect when it comes to my eating and that I want to use food to soothe myself and that’s okay.
  4. I accept my negative emotions with all their ups and downs.
  5. I am learning to cope with difficult emotions with and without eating.
  6. 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…

  1. Take 3 – 5 deep breaths inhaling and exhaling very slowly.
  2. 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.
  3. Take time out and play with your child, dog or cat.
  4. Go outside and look at the sky, the bird and the plants (whilst breathing deeply).
  5. Play a song you enjoy (create a playlist for these moments).
  6. Get creative …. draw, sew, paint, tidy a drawer, get out a puzzle or get a mindful colouring-in book!
  7. Have a list of 5 people you can call or text in moments like these…

For more ideas, click here.

The most important thing when dealing with emotional eating is to be fiercely kind to yourself!

Wishing you well,

“From our first meeting - two faces on Zoom across the world from each other, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was a healing balm for a lifetime of food struggles and dieting. Without realizing how much damage I had done to myself by adhering, for decades, to restrictive food plans and rigid diet programs, Xen had a way of redirecting the harsh and negative self-talk and sending me forth each week with compassion, mindfulness and a new way of seeing myself in the here and now. Gone are the maybe somedays, and if-only, and when-I’m-smaller thinking. Now I am committed to the imperfect and rocky path to listening to my body, accepting my perfect imperfections, and rejecting diet mentality. Those negative voices will revisit me from time to time, I know, but Xen has offered valuable tools for meeting each day as a fresh start - another choice, another chance. Her devotion to this work and her belief in her clients is a remarkable gift; I am so fortunate to have found her. It is never too late to let go of the drama and embrace joy, ease and self-acceptance.”

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“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

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“Xenia was a walking, living, breathing example of what can be done. I laughed and cried my way through a short course in this fascinating and invigorating programme with her, and have gained a designer tote full of coping skills that go way beyond containing kilogrammes. I feel infinitely lighter. I am doing this for me and, yes, you can do this for you too! And believe me, I’m cynical!”

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“I don’t obsess about food like I used to. I am thinking differently about food and feeling so much more relaxed around all types of food. It’s wonderful to have pleasure and satisfaction from eating.”

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“I learned a new way of thinking about food. I have learned that food is not the enemy and that it can actually be enjoyed with no guilt.”

Sandy, London, United Kingdom

Certified by The Life Coach School Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating