What We Can Do About Emotional Eating

It's natural for us human beings to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore it is easy to understand why when we are feeling bad many of us have the urge to eat comfort foods to avoid negative emotions.There are many examples of this in our lives. You might get upset after speaking to your father, who dismissed an idea of yours you were trying to talk about. Or after a hard day at work you come home stressed and tired and in need of relief and comfort. Or you need a distraction from the physical pain you are experiencing.Whatever the situation, eating comfort foods is a quick fix to feeling bad, and some might not see this as a problem. It’s easy to justify emotional eating as fine, when we compare it to more destructive and unhealthy behaviours such as gambling, using drugs, having affairs, compulsive shopping, and so on.

Comfort foods tend to be high in sugar, fat or salt, or a combination of all three. Some people reach for chocolate, others eat cheese, for many people their fix is their favourite fast foods.

When does it become a problem? When it turns into overeating, and when it’s the only coping skill you have to deal with negative emotions.

Lets take a closer look at overeating. Unfortunately, the more you rely on food to feel better, the more you will eat, because the distraction only lasts for the time you are eating. You will need more food to keep the bad feelings at bay. The emotions you are avoiding will just come back, when you are not eating, so a habit is formed. So emotional eating can lead to overeating. And this habit means that whenever you feel a negative emotion, you may automatically get cravings for comfort food. This can leave you feeling guilty for what you are eating, it can lead to an increase in weight, leaving you feeling unhealthy, and it doesn’t actually solve the original feelings you were trying to avoid in the first place. This creates a vicious cycle in your mind, where you (usually unconsciously) sabotage yourself from feeling better in the long run.

  1. So what are some solutions to this dilemma?
  2. Be aware of whatever foods you put in your mouth, and why. Only eat when you are hungry, and be honest with yourself about this.
  3. Cravings tend only to last a few minutes, so try not to give in to them, the craving will pass, especially if you distract yourself from the craving by focusing on another task you need to complete. It also helps not to buy the comfort food in the first place. Don’t make it too easy to get. Give yourself some time between the beginning of the craving and the eating to convince yourself that you don’t really need the comfort food.
  4. No one is perfect, so make sure you forgive yourself for setbacks. You cant always win, and sometimes the cravings are just too strong. As long as you stick to your long term goal of taking charge of yourself, you will make progress.
  5. Focus on your long term goals as soon as you get a craving, to remind yourself of what really matters.
  6. Learn emotional management skills, such as identifying the emotions sooner, and learning to accept them rather than fight them. Some people benefit from writing them down. It helps understand emotions better. We are supposed to feel negative emotions now and again. They are trying to send us messages about something that needs attention. No emotion is bad or unhealthy, its what we do with our emotions that creates positive or negative outcomes. You don’t have to react to emotions. And not all emotions require a solution. You can learn to give the emotions attention without letting them overtake you. The emotions are not all of you, so try observing them from a distance, try to understand them without judging. All of these skills can be learnt.
  7. Add to your self care toolbox – exercise, hobbies, supportive people, music, books, movies, can all be coping tools, as long as it makes you feel good. Balance is the key – when you are tired, rest, when you need a break from work, or the kids, do something fun.
  8. If you need help with any of the above, seek expert guidance. Psychologists can help with these issues. My Mental Fitness Program can also help strengthen the mind to tackle these issues better. Keep a look out on www.mentalfitnessclasses.com as I will soon be posting downloadable audio workshops on Mental Fitness.

Let me know what you think about emotional eating, or about this article. It would be great to hear from you at support@petercharleston.com.au

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