7 effective ways to get on top of emotional eating
Easter chocolate eating season is over. Boo. As a wise foodie once said...“ Never eat more than you can lift “ - Miss Piggy. How many times in your life have you been Bridget Jones and literally wanted to eat your body weight in chocolate or mashed potato and wash it down with a case of wine? Personally, I’ve lost count. And this was before having kids!
I’ve had a pretty awesome life to date. And like most people, I’ve hit some gnarly speed bumps along the way which have thrown my emotional state into an anxious creme-egg eating spin. But even when things were great and life was swell, I had bouts as a closet garden variety little miss piggy. I just love food and generally love the event of eating and indulging. Who doesn’t? But when my emosh-eating habits appeared as spots on my face, dimples on my butt and kebab wrappers stuck to my cheek after a large night on the espresso martinis.. something had to change.
It’s no secret that many of us open the fridge due to feeling stressed, exhausted, anxious, lonely, upset, bored, nervous, excited.. to name a few. Let me tell you a quick story that helped steer a new course for my emotional eating habits…
I am a recovering emotional eater. It wasn’t until my early 30’s did I really start to pay attention to my relationship with food. A 7 day detox retreat in Thailand was a literal kick up the backside. Zero food for 7 days. My reason for embarking on such madness was for an intense emotional reason. I wanted to purge and shake off a life experience from my mind, body and soul. My self discovery became deeper than any colonic hose could reveal. I recall the first light bulb moment was on the 3rd night on my retreat. Given I was traveling on my own, knew no one and was a first-time-faster, I started to suffer mild insomnia - I literally could not stop thinking about food. Even though weirdly, I wasn’t actually physically hungry at the time, my anxiety forced me out of bed one night, I leapt down the steps to the communal ‘kitchen’ where I found a fridge full of whole green coconuts. Brilliant. I had no way of opening one of these babies in the middle of the night, but oh yes I did try, and failed. I was slightly nervous someone might see my teeth mark attempts the next day. I sadly slopped back to my room empty-handed knowing this was going to be a very long 7 days indeed. But by day 4, my anxiety disappeared, and I slept better than I had in months.
The body is actually designed to occasionally fast, so it didn’t take long for the mind, body and soul to become aligned. My daily retreat routine of beach walks, sipping kidney teas, steam room, detox massage, yoga, meditation, colonics, nutrition workshops, vegetable broths, parasite zapping and lazing by the pool were all excellent distractions too. I was busy! Not to mention I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much talk about poo in my life. I left that place cleansed beyond belief and educated about how to practice more mindful eating. And since having kids, I now crave the mental clarity, energy, quality sleep, clearer skin, white eyes, leaner body and happier disposition that cleansing the body brings me. Move over Percy Pigs.
More recently though, with only a matter of months away from turning 40, my relationship with food is still an evolving one. Since moving into motherhood four years ago, food ( and wine ) have been tools in my coping mechanism. But I’m done with feeling guilty about this, aren’t you? So about 12 months ago, I explored the notion to ‘pattern interrupt’ with an occasional 24-48hr fast supported by the right nutrition whilst planning in a cheat day once a week. It was a win(e) win! It’s a year on and I’m still doing this successfully. I’ve never been happier or in better shape in my life, and that's after 2 kids! Finally, I feel I’ve found some balance that’s sustainable for life. I am not a purist and nor do I want to be. Life is for living and mindful eating has allowed me to in many ways, have it all!
No matter how powerless we feel over food and our feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. We can find healthier ways to deal with our emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of our weight, and finally draw a ring around our emotional eating. The reality is most of us will experience emotional eating at some point.
What can you do now? Well, I’m not suggesting we immediately buy a ticket to Thailand ( although that would be nice! ) or start a fasting frenzy but the first step is to stop beating ourselves up! Practicing mindful eating requires us to pause between our craving triggers and actions, which is not always easy to do when in the moment. And let’s face it, this is not about deprivation and being a foodie kill-joy are either, it’s totally dependent on you and if you feel you need to bring your eating habits into balance whatever your reason.
My top 7 tips that have helped me:
1. If you are feeling powerless over your emotions, then maybe start with being honest with yourself first. You may have to start accepting the good and bad emotions swirling in your head. We’re only human after all.
2. Pattern interrupt! Do something physically different to counter your usual pattern of emotions. Try going for a walk, writing, singing, reading or working out. Whatever you love to do.
3. Drink more water before you reach for food, we’re often chronically dehydrated instead.
4. Get better at shopping for healthy snacks, pack snacks into your bag and aim to eat something every 2-3hrs. Snacking little and often will help you feel more satisfied emotionally too.
5. Be present with your food ( and wine, ha! ). Don’t scoff it, take your time and really appreciate it! Chew thoroughly and slowly.
6. Aim to eat healthily 80% of the time. And allow yourself a “cheat day” once per week.
7. Introduce intermittent fasting into your lifestyle. Try it out for size! There are many ways you can do this to suit your level of comfort. I’d be happy to help you suss out a system that’s best for you and your lifestyle too ( just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Remember when your body is hungry, it wants nutrients not calories. And there is nothing wrong with a little indulgence now and then, just try to be mindful of what, how much and why you’re reaching for unhealthy food. Good luck and happy eating!