Overcoming Emotional Eating: Didn't know it could happen to me!

"Defined “overeating in response to negative emotions” ,emotional eating usually happens during periods of high stress, anxiety, depression, sadness or anger. The act of eating emotionally involves using food in an effort to numb uncomfortable feelings, despite not actually being hungry."

I have been struggling HARD with emotional eating since the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my habits and routines. Before all the changes, my life was fairly simple. I would wake up, go to cyclebar to exercise, eat breakfast, drop off the kids at school, go train clients at the gym for a few hours, pick up kids, eat lunch, clean house, etc. Now with all these routines changed up, I find it hard to eat on a regular basis, unless I'm running out the door drinking a shake. So when I do eat, it's not the best choices.

I've been stressed about role reversals as I have worked outside the home and Jeremy has helped the kids with school. I have been stressed with a 6 year old that hates everybody and everything, especially school! I have been stressed helping my children endure the frustrations that the limitations have caused on friendships or extracurricular activities. I haven't handled it well and have reached for 'comfort foods' of the past that have left me feeling completely nutritionally depleted and yucky. "It's not worth it" I tell myself and then do it again a few days later. UGH!

So I did some research to back up my own feelings about it to help shed light for anyone else that might be struggling with it too!

"Emotional eating habits are usually deeply rooted, and in some cases have been a coping mechanism used since childhood or adolescence. As such, it should be viewed as a challenging habit to overcome versus a weakness or a lack of self-restraint.

It’s particularly important to avoid blaming or shaming yourself when you experience emotional eating, or to expect yourself to simply have “more willpower” or stick to a stricter diet, as this increased guilt or shame can worsen the problem and potentially lead to more emotional eating. 

Experiencing negative emotions such as frustration, anger and sadness are all part of normal life. Rather than finding alternative ways to ignore or distract from the stress caused by these negative emotions, there is a “toolbox” of resources and healthy strategies to acknowledge, cope with and practice managing stress in healthy ways. 

  • Meditation or deep breathing

  • Body scan

  • Journaling

  • Therapy 

  • Calling a friend

  • Taking a walk

  • Yoga or stretching (including a short practice at home, or a class at the gym)

  • Going outside for fresh air

  • Playing a favorite playlist 

  • Taking a nap

  • Prioritizing getting more sleep 

  • Daily exercise 

  • Balanced nutrition habits

  • Personal rituals like drinking tea or reading a book before bed, a coffee ritual in the morning, or a bath-time ritual on the weekend 

  • Prioritizing hobbies and friendships

  • Art (drawing, adult coloring books, painting, etc.)

Some questions to ask yourself in the moments of emotional eating temptations:

  • What would the healthiest version of me do to deal with a stressful day [with the kids, at work, etc.]? What activities might help me deal with stress other than using food? 

  • Imagine my life six months from now. I’ve completely overcome my emotional eating habit. What helped me get there? 

  • If I come home from work tomorrow and are feeling stressed, what could I do instead of heading to the pantry or picking up fast food? What could I do today to plan for that outcome and set myself up for success? 

Using mindful eating to overcome emotional eating is a skill that takes practice. It's worth the effort. Mindful eating is characterized by slowing down while eating, noticing hunger and fullness cues, and eating until feeling satisfied (versus overly stuffed or sick).

Creating habit-based goals will assist in learning how to eat mindfully.

Habit-based Goals

These habit-based goals, can be used to begin eating mindfully, can be incorporated into SMART goals by making them measurable and time-bound (e.g., at dinner every night for two weeks). 

  1. Stop eating at 80% full. 

  2. Put the fork down between bites. 

  3. Turn off screens while eating all meals and snacks. 

  4. Eat meals and snacks at the table without distractions as often as possible. 

  5. Begin each lunch and dinner with a glass of water and a serving of vegetables to avoid feeling overly hungry and eating quickly at mealtime. 

After reading through the above mentioned habits to consider as well as other ways to deal with emotional stress, I feel equipped to handle the next few weeks of certain stress in my life, as we're moving to another state, to better care for my body. Take care of me so I can take care of others has been a motto I have incorporated into my life very heavily the last few years. I just needed a refresher course on how to do so!

One of the hardest lessons that I have learned in my life is that knowing something doesn't make you an expert, doing it does! I am by no means an expert at eating the best, but I can keep trying and so can YOU!

"How to Help Clients Overcome Emotional Eating" by Cassandra Padgett Health & Fitness Expert, ACE Certified April 2020

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