Emotional eating is probably one of the worst culprits for weight gain and ruining your fitness results. After supporting so many women through their fitness journey's on my F.I.T programs, I see emotional eating come up as an obstacle time and time again. Quite a lot of women, when they experience strong negative emotions, like anxiety, stress and heartbreak, overeat, feel guilty about overeating, gain weight, and then repeat the cycle. This is how it’s easy to get into a downward spiral of emotional eating. So much of emotional eating stems from uncontrolled stress that pops up, combined with restrictive diets. If you can learn to control these two factors, then you can learn to control the habit of seeking comfort in food.
What is emotional eating?
To some extent, we are all emotional eaters. So much of how we socialise and celebrate is based around food. We celebrate by going out for a nice dinner or have catch-ups with friends over brunch. Emotional eating becomes a problem when you are using food to mask negative emotions, or use it to make you feel better. Emotional eating can also happen as an over the top celebration. When eating habits are based on emotions rather than hunger, your waistline and emotional state can suffer. To find out if you are someone who emotionally eats, you can ask yourself some key questions:
1. Do you mindlessly eat when you are bored, want a distraction and/or procrastinating?
2. Do you reward yourself with food when you are having a good day?
3. Do you seek comfort in food when you are having a bad day?
4. Do you eat when you feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety?
If you answered yes to these questions, then sometimes you eat based on emotions, rather than when you are hungry. Now, not all emotional eating is super bad for you. However, as I said, it becomes a problem when you are using food to mask a deeper issue, and it’s making you gain weight and have an unhealthy relationship with food.
So how do you break free?
The first step is to actually recognise if you are an emotional eater or not. Emotional eating is often just a behaviour or habit we have created over time. So just as you have learned and created the habit, you can unlearn it and break it. Here are some key ways to break free from emotional eating:
1. Become aware of your eating patterns
In order to remove emotional eating, you need to become aware of your eating patterns and behaviours. Stop and recognise when you are eating out of hunger and when you are eating because of an emotional state. Pause and think before you take a bite out of that pizza or reach for the biscuits. Am I actually hungry? And how am I going to feel after I eat this? This will really make you confront why you are eating in the first place.
2. Learn your triggers
Once you determine when you emotionally eat, it’s good to sit down and figure out what is triggering you to do it. Once you know what your triggers are, then you can get to the root cause a lot better. A good way to do this is keep a food journal and note down each time you are emotionally eating, and what has happened leading up to that. Perhaps it’s when you have a stressful day at work, or if someone gives you negative feedback. Whatever your trigger is, next time it occurs, rather than automatically going to your “habit” of emotionally eating, find a healthier alternative to coping with how you are feeling.
3. Find something that makes you feel good, other than eating
So once you know what your triggers are, it’s important to form a new habit of something that will make you feel good, but doesn’t involve eating. Perhaps it’s taking a hot bath, going for a big long walk, or having a boxing session at the gym. Write down a long list of activities that can give you a quick pick me up and make you feel good. Then just go to that list next time you have the urge to eat your emotions away. Once you start forming these new healthier habits and feeling good from them, they will begin to stick and you will be less likely to emotionally eat.
4. Ban the restrictive diets
Restrictive diets do nothing for your long-term fat loss goals, nor do they help with emotional eating. When you restrict yourself so much, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting those banned foods even more. Then when you cave and eat them, you get left with guilt, anger and disappointment, only sparking emotional eating as a form of comfort. It’s really easy to end up in a dangerous cycle of restriction, bingeing, guilt and then emotional eating. Rather than restricting yourself completely of all foods you enjoy, find some healthy alternatives to some of your favourite treats, and then fill up on those.
Remember, emotional eating is just a habit that has been formed over time, and all bad habits can be broken. So if you do find yourself reaching for that chocolate bar on a bad day, don't worry you can break free from the emotional eating pattern. Is there anything you are struggling with on your fitness journey? If so, leave me a message below in the comments section and I'll try to help where I can.