Any time you are feeding a feeling instead of a rumbling stomach, you are emotionally eating. The never ending vicious circle of emotional eating whether stressful or joyful can lead to self destructive behavior and loss of self esteem. Eating to soothe pain or celebrate life has become a common response through years of conditioning and cultural beliefs. Problems begin when we become frustrated with ourselves for allowing our emotions to decide what and how much we eat. We have family responsibilities tugging at us when we could really use some “me time”. Kids need dinner, errands to run, it is easy to choose something comforting to soothe the “pains” or “highs” of the day. Then there are cultural beliefs that are focused on food, it seems like we can never win, but in reality we can.
Women not only eat when life throws us a curve, we are more likely to eat when we experience job burn out. In doing some research, I discovered an article based on a Finnish study that confirmed that women who are fed up with their jobs may be more likely to turn to food for comfort in times of stress. The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who reported work burnout were also more likely to have a habit of “emotional eating, or eating when stressed, anxious or down, rather than just hungry. Men have issues with emotional eating just as women do, they just don’t want to admit it. Night-eating syndrome affects an estimated 1.5% of women and men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
I had a schedule that was always stretched thin, so it made it easy to justify my habit of emotional eating. If I got upset in any way, tired, unhappy or I wanted to celebrate, I usually went home to cook something comforting or out to a restaurant. Whether happy or upset, eating was pretty much the response to my feelings and I usually felt worse afterward. Not only was I frustrated with myself, I was stuffed and exasperated for overeating and unkind to myself.
To justify my choice to “feed” my feelings with food rather then deal with them in another way, I created an emotional web of lies that I used as an excuse to continue to eat uncontrollably, feel miserable so I ended up overweight. That my dear friends is a serious lack of self esteem. We not only live it, we continually create stories that we tell ourselves and the world, not realizing that our self esteem is in the tank.
Why we eat, when, and how much are not black and white questions — there are many shades of gray. Emotional eating cannot be resolved overnight. At some point in our lives, most of us become emotional eaters. It’s not something to feel guilty or shame about. Instead, it is vital to ask yourself some important questions:
- Do you feel guilty or unhappy about what you eat?
- Do you go without eating when something has gone wrong in your life?
- Do you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry to feel better?
- Do you think about food all the time or just when you’re upset?
- Do you eat when in the middle of an emotional situation?
- Do you seek high fat, high carb, sugary foods and beverages when you’re emotionally charged?
I have over the past few years discovered that there are many ways to steer away from eating in response to whatever life brings by finding alternative ways to occupy your mind to move away from reactive eating and handling stress or “celebrations” through healthier and more creative options. For me, it was going on a journey of self discovery. That started it all. I decided that I wanted a healthy life, not go on a diet or fitness program. What I wanted was a healthy body and an active life. So, I joined a personal growth group, I read self-help books that really made an impact on me and I started to take better care of me. Rather then put myself last on the list, I moved me up to first place. Now, don’t wince and say, but my family needs me. Of course they do, but in order for you to be there for them, you have to be in top shape, and a role model for your children as well as your family and friends.
Another major find for me was discovering a diversion that consumes me in a healthy way. Nature photography has become the outlet that helped me to discover myself. I get lost and absorbed in the intricacy of nature and the natural beauty that surrounds all of us everywhere. My camera is my way of seeing the world in a way that I never did before. Each of us has something within us that is just “crying” to get out. Grabbing a candy bar or a bag of chips and soda never lasts and it damages our health.
I don’t recommend an eating journal, not only was this not an answer for me, I’ve talked with other women who found that it wasn’t helpful for them. From my experience of what does work is paying attention to how you feel or mindful eating. Ask yourself am I really hungry or are am I trying to push the feelings I am experiencing down with food. For me that was an eye opener. I also have developed a system where I pay attention to how my body feels, is my stomach growling? If yes, a healthy snack or well balanced meal will fill the need, if the answer is no, then I begin the process of self-talk that helps me to handle the problem through changing my thoughts. This can be something as simple as addressing how you feel, what has upset you or what other ways you can celebrate an occasion and then decide that you want to feel good, happy and content with yourself and life and start your own personal growth “workout”
Just as in a fitness program, a personal growth workout is making a determined effort to exercise your brain and dissolve old belief patterns. Instead of feeling negative, upset and frustrated, begin to change your thoughts to whatever makes you happy. Watch a music video on YouTube, read something inspirational, find something that makes you laugh, breathe deeply and take a walk. You are your own very best friend and the one person you can rely on for knowing exactly what you need to feel good. It takes effort, but from my own experience in elevating myself to first priority, I can tell you that it will change your entire world.
To help you to eat the right foods when you’re emotionally charged and relax your rattled nerves, I’ve gathered a list that can help you to replace sugary or fat loaded junk food and learn to find comfort in something healthy that will actually improve your health.
Almonds, Pistachios & Walnuts
When all hell breaks loose, reach for a handful of almonds. They’re bursting with vitamin E, an antioxidant that bolsters the immune system.
This is a great substitute for junk food because it’s likely to satisfy your craving for something sweet and make you feel good at the same time. According a 2011 review from Yale University researchers, e
ating chocolate in moderation can improve feelings of fullness, cognitive function and mood.
The next time you are stressed and crave a high-fat, creamy treat, skip the ice cream and try some homemade guacamole – the thick, rich texture can satisfy your craving and reduce those frantic feelings. Plus, the monounsaturated fat and potassium can lower blood pressure.Oranges
Fretting over a job interview or stress at work? Peel an orange. The magic nutrient here is vitamin C. In a study in Psychopharmacology, German researchers subjected 120 people to a public-speaking task plus a series of math problems. Those who took 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C reported that they felt less stressed, and their blood pressure and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) returned to normal faster.
Stress hormones have a rival in omega-3 fatty acids. A 2003 study from Diabetes & Metabolism found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids kept cortisol and adrenaline from spiking. Omega-3 fatty acids also protect against heart disease, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.To develop peace of mind and create a life free from emotional eating is a journey just like anything else in life. It takes effort, baby steps and a desire to change your focus from food to life. If I did it, anyone can do it. I am a living, breathing example of being able to stop the madness by learning to love myself unconditionally. It sure does take the stress out of life and relieves the burden of having to be everything to everybody. Just remember if you don’t love yourself, no one else will have a chance to love you. We are all here on this planet for a purpose, not loving ourselves is not the reason.
To begin the process of eliminating emotional eating implement these easy and healthy ways into your daily life:
Relaxation – This is imperative to not only help you to stop emotional eating, it helps to relieve stress and change the direction of your thoughts. Meditation is a simple practice that will change your life. There are a variety of guided meditations for weight loss and emotional eating. One way to practice is with a qualified instructor or with a CD or on YouTube. Whichever you choose, when you meditate, you relax and focus on specific images such as seeing yourself enjoying nature or time with family or friends, or see yourself in a new outfit after you’ve lost weight, or creating a new, positive mental image of your body.
Instead of acknowledging your feelings with food, when you feel a situation arising that may trigger emotional eating, call a friend to talk, seek a support group (meetup.com is a great place to look). Move your body, go for a walk, bike ride or swim. Don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes along the way, it is all part of the process. Remember each moment is an opportunity to start your new lifestyle. Be forgiving, gentle and loving with yourself , remember it took years to be where you are. Take baby steps and be proud of each accomplishment, no matter the size, you did it!