When you think about what it means to be an “emotional eater,” the scene might look like this…
A woman heads to the nearest convenience store and fills up one of those small metal baskets with cookies, package of mini doughnuts, ice cream, Snickers bar, Diet Coke, and a bag of chips. She heads back home. And eats it all.
But this is just a glimpse into one version of emotional eating. There is no one scenario for every woman and yet, most of us are plagued by emotional eating and don’t even realize it. We think because we aren’t the woman above in the convenience store then it must not be impacting us.
What I’ve found, through my work with so many women, is that emotional eating is one of the key reasons we self-sabotage our weight loss.
That’s why I wanted to take a deeper look at what emotional eating means, how to identify it for yourself, what your triggers look like, and how to break free from it.
Hunger vs. Feelings
Let’s first address the definition of physiological eating. Our body requires adequate amounts of food with the right nutrients to work optimally. Most of the time, you know when you’re hungry. You get those small hunger pains a few hours after your last meal and realize that you’re hungry and it’s time for some fuel. BUT if you’re busy or really engaged with something that you’re doing you will feel comfortable waiting a bit to eat. It doesn’t feel urgent.
But emotional eating hits you fast. It’s as if you need something sweet, salty, or chocolatey right away. But after you eat the sleeve of cookies or the bag of chips, you don’t feel satisfied. You may still feel the “hunger” and often, feel numb or more flatlined. And you continue to scavenge the fridge or the pantry trying to find the next thing that you feel like eating.
Does this sound familiar?
This is because you are using food, wine (or any kind of alcohol) to distract you from what you are experiencing in life.
Your nightly habits may be preventing you from not only losing weight but also dealing with your feelings head on. I understand this all too well because this was me every single night for a very long time. Once I realized it, I was able to make real change. This is one of the key reasons why I was able to lose 35+ lbs and never look back.
Now that we’ve gone a bit deeper into emotional eating, how can you easily identify it in your own life?
When Emotional Eating Strikes
When you are truly physiologically hungry chances are you go for a healthy option. Maybe it’s a salad with chicken, a veggie plate, protein, etc. The healthy food feels nourishing and satisfying.
But when it’s emotionally triggered, you don’t crave kale. Am I right? You are looking for those comfort foods. And they do just that – the salty, sweet, creamy (or all three) comfort you. So you head to the fridge, the pantry, or the freezer to find that thing.
Think about when you do this and how you feel when you do…
Here’s what some of my clients have described: feeling discouraged, depressed, angry, resentful, lonely, nervous, stressed, tired and/or bored. Others describe their eating combined with other nightly habits. Eating when you don’t want to do that task at work, while you watch TV at night, in the car or while answering emails.
You have to be aware of how often emotional eating is creeping into your life. Once you are aware of where it is in your life, you can begin to make better choices.
Food Won’t Fix Your Feelings
Food cannot fix your feelings. It can’t eliminate those emotions. I say this to you with so much love because this is at the core of why I do what I do. Healthy, permanent weight loss is about something so much deeper than logging calories or miles on the treadmill.
It’s not just about eat this or do this. You’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work. It’s probably why you are reading this. There is something else you need to address.
Once you know where emotional eating lives in your life, the next step is that you have to remind yourself that soothing with food or wine is fleeting. When you eat because you are truly hungry, you stop when you’re full. You make healthy choices and don’t regret it. But emotional eating leaves you feeling guilty, frustrated, ashamed and never fully satisfied.
You ask yourself, “How come I know better but don’t do better?”
BUT at the same time, you also have to ask yourself, “What is it that I’m afraid to feel?” In fact, I want you to write the answer down. Go grab a piece of paper and answer this question.
Sometimes this isn’t the most comfortable thing to identify, which is why it’s so important to have support from other people. Having that constant support and encouragement helps you find the courage to face the hard stuff.
This is how you hop off the emotional eating hamster wheel – for good.
Who are those people for you? Maybe it’s a group of girlfriends, a mom group, a few of your co-workers, a coach, or mentor. Developing a strong system of support has been proven time and time again to be a cornerstone for healthy weight loss.
Get Your Needs Met
Human beings are emotionally driven. You will engage in behaviors that provide you with a reward. Eating might give you the reward of a temporary escape from something that’s hard in your life, or relief or distraction from stress or sadness you feel. It covers up the needs you don’t want to address in your life.
But instead, I invite you to begin to do something different. I invite you to identify what isn’t working in your life and give yourself permission to learn different ways to get your needs met. Put yourself first, instead of turning to food and alcohol.
Remember, nothing is easy at first, and it may even feel like you’re depriving yourself. But you are not. You’re rewiring your brain to identify and do something different. This takes time.
Also know, you are not forced to live under hard rules like “ALL or NOTHING”. It’s not like you won’t ever be able to drink wine again or have a piece of chocolate. You are simply deciding to bring awareness and consciousness to your life, and not just succumbing to your feelings or emotions.
You are redefining what brings you joy!
Instead of the chips, chocolate or wine, maybe you take a hot bath, warm shower, or decide to read a good book. Maybe you rework your schedule, so you make time to get out and meet your friends, join a parent support group, or an activity you’ve always wanted to get involved with!
Choose to create another resource to emotionally nourish yourself instead of relying on the temporary comfort of food or alcohol. And know, you don’t always crave the change you’re creating. Keep believing that there’s something better for you.
You Are Capable
Food tends to fill a gap in our life. It could be love, companionship, friendship; food feels reliable, we can count on it, and we can control it. But food is meant to nourish us, not cover up our feelings.
You can get a handle on this. You are capable.
For way too long women will silently suffer and struggle on their own. And by suffer I mean you are willing to tolerate, endure, stay in the status quo because it just feels too overwhelming to rock the boat …. So you numb and distract yourself and time just goes by.
I don’t want that for you because I know change is possible. It happened for me and it has happened for so many of the women I’ve worked with. In fact, I’m so sure that weight loss takes this kind of deeper look, I’ve put together something unique I want to share with you.
It’s called The Weight Loss Code.
This Masterclass Series brings together interviews with 22 of the world’s leading scientists, MDs, NYT Best-Selling authors, and weight loss experts so you can set yourself free from this emotional and physical struggle. You will learn the actual science behind healthy, permanent weight loss.
I’ve created this online masterclass series because these experts, along with myself, want to share their struggle with weight loss and the factual, research-based strategies, steps, and tips that have actually worked for them and their clients.
You’ll learn to stop the “all or nothing” mentality that consumes you. Plus, every interview will give you ONE doable step to create your own weight loss path.
You can grab access here…
What’s one thing you can do this week for yourself? Mine is a warm bath + cup of tea before I go to bed. Pop yours in the comments below. I always love hearing from you!