I’ve been there. It starts with a handful of carrots, moves to a few pieces of cheese, and the next thing you know, you’re elbow deep in a pint of ice cream.
You go to bed exhausted and sick, feeling out of control and like you’re sabotaging yourself.
Can you relate?
It’s called emotional eating, and it happens more often than you might think. You don’t always have to clean out your fridge in one night to fall victim to emotional eating, either.
This phenomenon can strike at any time, when you find yourself eating for reasons other than satisfying actual physical hunger.
When I worked in marketing, it wasn’t long before I discovered that food companies constantly strive to make a connection between food and emotion. In order to create appeal, food marketing promises an emotional benefit beyond the food itself — such as comfort, excitement, belonging, etc.
My job as a marketer was to make these connections even more compelling and convincing, by fueling our collective belief that eating certain foods provides us with emotional satisfaction.
When I finally realized the full implications of what I was doing for a living, I quit my job.
I began healing my own relationship with food, and I now help other women do the same by ending their emotional eating patterns and reconnecting with their bodies.
I’ve come up with five powerful tools for how to put an end to emotional eating for good. Following these steps takes practice and a little bravery, but if you follow them not only will you stop eating emotionally, but you’ll also learn to start enjoying your food — and your life — in a whole new way.
1. Don’t abandon yourself.
Emotional eating provides a release from discomfort, providing a momentary sense of pleasure and satisfaction when you’re feeling something you don’t want to feel. Overeating has a numbing, softening effect on our unwanted sentiments, and takes our attention away from them. The key to ending this pattern is to not abandon yourself when your emotions go awry, but instead to invite them in and allow yourself to feel.
Tell yourself that it’s OK to feel sad, mad, scared, tired — you name it. Welcome your negative emotions with kindness and curiosity, and ask them what they want from you. This includes those intense feelings of guilt or anger that tend to follow an emotional eating episode. Approach your feelings with kindness, and your body will begin to understand that it no longer has to overeat to protect you from your feelings. Plus, through listening to your emotions, you’ll discover what it is you truly want, and can create new strategies for deeper satisfaction.
2. Maintain the pleasure principle.
Make pleasure a priority in your life! Flavor your water with fruit, wear soft, comfortable clothes, take bubble baths. Give your body other ways to experience feeling good, aside from eating. If you do find yourself in the middle of a binge, try allowing yourself to fully enjoy it. Sit down and savor every bite. The more focused you are on how good it feels to eat, the harder it will be to eat to the point of pain. Many times emotional eating is just our body’s attempt at experiencing pleasure.
3. Eat only when you’re actually hungry.
Emotional eaters tend to not eat when they’re actually hungry, which only makes them want to eat a lot more later. As the author Geneen Roth says, “For every diet, there’s an equal and opposite binge.” So instead, eat real, healthy, and nourishing foods whenever you experience physical hunger. Doing so will teach your body that you are not in what the weight-loss advocate Jon Gabriel calls, “starvation mode.” The Gabriel Method author says, “You become very efficient at storing fat and you lose the ability to burn it.” This means that eating when you’re hungry will not only make you less inclined to binge, but it will also tell your body that it’s safe to lose weight.
4. Prepare for your next binge by knowing your triggers.
Discover your triggers and strategize. If you know you eat when you’re lonely, plan to call a friend or write in your journal instead. Also, always carry food with you so that you never feel deprived. Emotional eating can be your body’s reaction to feeling deprived, so create new ways to nourish yourself. Stock your fridge with delicious, healthy foods, pack your calendar with exciting things to do, and be disciplined about setting aside time for yourself to relax.
5. Wake up to your own beauty.
If you knew how beautiful you were, you wouldn’t deny yourself food to try to change yourself. You also wouldn’t emotionally eat as a release, because there’d be no tension from which to release. Any shift in diet would be out of self-love and care for your beautiful body. We are a culture of gorgeous women expected to fit into an impossible mold for the sake of capital gain. Dr. Gail Dines says, “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.” It’s time to wake up to your beauty and feed your body with the love and tenderness it truly deserves.