Emotional eating is probably one of the biggest reasons for people gaining weight and ruining their fitness improvements.
Quite a lot of people over-eat when they experience strong negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, stress and relationship break-ups. They then feel guilty about overeating and the weight gain that has caused. This causes them to get emotional and over-eat again, causing a spiral that is difficult to break.
If you can learn to control the stress that leads to the emotions, or change your eating habits when you have negative emotions, you can regain control of your eating habits and start to break the habits you have formed.
What is emotional eating? To some extent, we are all emotional eaters. A lot of our social lives are based around food. We socialise or celebrate by going out for a nice dinner or catch up with friends over lunch. Eating only becomes a problem when you are using food to mask negative emotions, or use it to make you feel better. If your eating habits are based on emotions rather than hunger, your waistline and emotional state can suffer.
To find out if you are someone who emotionally eats, you can ask yourself these questions:
Do you mindlessly eat when you are bored, want a distraction and/or watching TV?
Do you reward yourself with food when you are having a good day?
Do you seek comfort in food when you are having a bad day?
Do you eat when you feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety?
If you answered yes to these questions, then sometimes you eat based on emotions, rather than when you are hungry. It becomes a problem when you are using food to mask a deeper issue, and it’s making you gain weight and have an unhealthy relationship with food.
So how do you break free? The first step is to actually recognise if you are an emotional eater or not. Emotional eating is often just a behaviour or habit we have created ourselves over time. So, as you have created the habit, you can break it. Here are some possible ways to help you break free from emotional eating:
Become aware of your eating patterns In order to remove emotional eating, you need to become aware of your eating patterns and behaviours. Stop and recognise when you are eating out of hunger and when you are eating because of an emotional state. Pause, think before you buy the cake or reach for a pack of biscuits and ask yourself these questions; Am I actually hungry? How am I going to feel after I eat this? This will really make you confront why you are eating in the first place.
Learn the cause Once you determine when you emotionally eat, it’s good to sit down and figure out what is causing you to do so. When you realise what is causing you to overeat you can get to work on stopping it. A good way of doing this is to keep a food diary. Write down everything that you eat and drink in a day and why you have chosen it. Also keep a note of your mood during the day and any good or bad experiences you have had. By writing these things down, it will make you look at the reasons why you are eating and will allow you to make a healthier choice.
Find something apart from eating that makes you feel good Once you have worked out the cause you can then do something about creating a new, healthier, habit. After a stressful day at work you may want to swap the tub of ice cream for a soak in the bath with some relaxing music. It may be that you join a gym and go straight after work to exercise the stress out of your system. Write down a list of activities that you enjoy and make you feel less stressed and happy. Keep the list with you and if you feel the need to eat to make you feel better after a hard day, look at the list instead. Once you get into the habit of using healthier alternatives they will become second nature and you will have ditched the emotional eating.
Ditch the ‘diets’ While ‘diets’ will work at first for weight-loss, they will not do anything to help with emotional eating. When you restrict yourself with diets it is easy to then want and crave the foods that you have banned yourself from eating. When you eventually cave in to temptation, you will then be left with worse feelings of guilt, anger and disappointment, plus a feeling of failure. This can then result in you falling back into the emotional eating spiral. Instead of restricting yourself to an off-the-shelf diet, try to find some healthy alternatives to foods you previously ate and create your own sustainable food plan. This way you can still eat the foods you previously enjoyed, but in moderation and without the emotions attached to them.
Remember, emotional eating is just a habit that has been formed over time and all bad habits can be broken. So if you do find yourself reaching for the ice-cream on a bad day, don’t worry you can break free from the emotional eating pattern.
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