Why We Eat Emotionally & My Tips To Control It.
If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy relationship with food, some of what I’m saying won’t make sense to you, it might even seem bizarre, but it will hopefully help you to understand those that do have issues with food, a little better.
Personally I do sometimes eat emotionally to lift my mood when I’m sad or stressed, usually chocolate. I beat it 3 out of 4 times though but it’s a daily struggle.
You don’t need to be overweight to struggle with emotional eating and there are many others who eat emotionally but it doesn’t affect their lives negatively. In this article I’m focusing on those that are greatly affected by emotional eating.
An emotional eater generally loves food and can feel full. If an emotional eater is overweight, portion size isn’t usually the cause. It’s consistent regular eating, in an emotional way. They use food as their reward, sometimes as a punishment, or as a way to make themselves happy, or as their stress coping mechanism in their lives.
They might eat high fat & high sugar foods to reward themselves when happy or achieved something positive. They might have a bar of chocolate after the gym for example, or celebrate the end of the working week with take-aways and alcohol all weekend.
When Sad or Lonely
They will eat high fat & high sugar foods to lift their mood when sad, the stereotypical eating ice-cream after a break up of a relationship for example. Or when feeling lonely, will sit at home eating unhealthy foods watching TV, not occasionally – every night.
Stress of any kind is the biggest trigger for them to eat unhealthily. Having a heavy workload or stressful job is the biggest culprit for an emotional eater being overweight. This can then be used as an excuse to eat unhealthy food in regular large quantities, especially in the evening. It’s justified by saying “I deserve this take away” or “I’m too tired/stressed to cook”.
Food and/or alcohol is often the ‘go to’ release, when stressed. It’s usually been instilled since childhood (it was for me), that when stressed or upset, nice food will make you feel better. It does, but only for a short time and generally isn’t enough to solve the reason you’re stressed and can lead to guilt afterwards.
In extreme cases they might subconsciously punish themselves, when they receive negative comments, receive bad news or make a mistake in their lives. Eating fast food after getting negative feedback in work or not fitting into a pair of jeans.
Excuses & Justification
Emotional eaters are experts at making excuses and justifying why they should give in and eat the unhealthy food and a lot of times, we do it subconsciously. The common excuses being, “I didn’t have time to cook something healthy”. “There wasn’t anything in my fridge so I just got a take away”. “I’d a crazy week in work so deserve a bottle of wine with my dinner all week”. “I went to the gym 3 times this week, so can get away with it.” “I’m fat already, so might as well.” Or simply “f@ck it”.
If you’re an emotional eater you’ll know them all very well and usually stick to a couple of your favorite comfortable excuses that you’ve justified in your mind. Anyone can make excuses but not everyone takes them. Identify your favorite excuses.
An emotional eater that’s very overweight knows they are, but usually refuses to weigh themselves, normally underestimate their weight and almost always hates getting their photo taken.
Emotional eaters seem to put others first a lot of the time, take on too much in their job, have difficulty delegating or take on the problems of others. This puts their own health and happiness at risk and they need to learn to look after themselves and be a little more selfish to get and more importantly, stay in shape. You can still work late when you’re slim…., you can still be an agony aunt for your friends and family when you’re fit….. You’ll still meet that deadline if you go to the gym…. Your company will not go bust, if you leave the office on time….
They are generally excellent at their profession and excel at whatever they do, why can’t they do this with their health? In my experience, this type of person finds it harder to lose weight. As you’re either happy, sad or stressed, every hour of every day.
My Tips on Avoiding & Controlling Emotional Eating.
If you’re unhappy or unhealthy, or both. Something’s got to change? In 5 years, do you still want to feel this way? Do you still want to be gripped by emotional eating? The cravings, the guilt, the shameful feelings, the low energy, negative self thoughts? If not, then you are going to have to accept and make changes. Even if you only take one thing away from this article, it’s that there must be change in your life, to see improvements. What’s the worst that can happen, if you change?
TV & Social Media
Changing your TV and social media habits, is the number 1 on my list of things that must change to reduce emotional eating. Every emotional eater watches lots and lots of TV and it’s their go to place for comfort with their food. TV is great but too much of it and it takes over your life and your personal life suffers dramatically, as a result. Set strict limits on your TV time. Set a new rule that you don’t eat any food watching TV during the week. Sit at the table. You can still watch TV just change what you do when you watch it. Do you really love and have to watch, all the programs you watch? Are there some you can cut out?
Learn to identify when you are eating something emotionally. Ask yourself “What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t eat that?” Agree to wait 5 minutes and see if you still need to eat it. Figure out what triggered you to eat emotionally, what can you change next time to avoid it
It’s vital the people you live with support you. There’s no point coming home to your partner or housemate, eating a pizza and chocolate in front of you, while you eat a stir fry. If they wont change their eating habits to support you, change your meal times and don’t eat with them. Get rid of unhealthy foods from your house. If you have children and say you have to have lots of chocolate in the house for them. If it’s not ok for you to have, why is it ok for them to have? Or at least to have as much, as often? Is teaching them to reward themselves with food a good thing? Has it been beneficial for you?
Exercising with a friend or in a group will help to keep emotional eaters focused and on track. Speak to your boss and ask can you change your working hours, work from home occasionally, pay for a fitness or cooking course, or to get you some help with a project. Never be afraid to ask. As an employer, I know a happy employee is a better, more productive and long term employee.
Healthy people, plan and prep their meals in advance. It’s what they do and is vital that you learn to do this as part of your healthy routine. Sunday is food prep day. Plan, shop for, cook and refrigerate as much of the next weeks meals as possible. Don’t have unhealthy food in your house, unless you can control having small portions of it. I can’t and if there’s something unhealthy in my house I’ll eat it all! My old flat mate had to hide his nutella from me. If its not there, I wont even think about it but if there’s unhealthy food somewhere, I’ll find it. But likewise if I’ve healthy food and snacks prepared, I have no problem eating them and do actually enjoy it. I just have to have it ready in advance, it’s vital.
Learn to control your Cravings
I cover this in detail in another article here.
Enjoy Healthy Food
Take your time eating food, savour and enjoy it. I’m a terrible cook and don’t really like cooking, but I’m working on it. It really has helped me to eat healthily by learning a new recipe, even if only once every couple of months. I also recommend that emotional eaters reward themselves with new clothes, new piece of equipment for their hobby or get their nails done etc, instead of rewarding with food.
Being determined and motivated enough are key to succeeding. Set short term weekly goals. Don’t focus too much on figures, like “I have to be down 2lbs this week”. Keep it simpler, “I’m going to exercise 4 times this week” or “I’m going to plan and prep next weeks meals on Sunday” or “I’ve entered the 5km fun run next month, so have to eat healthily and train this week”.
Find your fitness.
To be really successful at getting in shape and being as healthy as we can, we must find a fitness regime, exercise routine or sport, that we enjoy and can continue in the long term. Whether that’s running, cycling, spinning, weight training, bodybuilding, table tennis or dancing, it doesn’t matter. We have to find what works for us and fit it into our routine.
Break the Cycle of Loneliness
Not all emotional eaters are lonely, but many are. If this is you, find out why? Contact friends you haven’t seen for a while and arrange to meet up for a coffee, a walk, the cinema, a fitness class, occasionally the pub or a restaurant. Be social, avoid isolating yourself it’s unhealthy and deep down, you probably know that you’re happier when with good friends? Although alternatively, if you have trigger friends that you always get wasted drunk with, or who you always gorge on pizza, avoid this person or change where you meet them.
If you enjoyed this article and think it will help your friends, please share it on social media and don’t forget to like my Facebook or Instagram pages, for more posts and articles like this. Thanks, Andy.