What is emotional eating? It's a sudden urge for a particular food, often sugary and fatty, usually accompanying an uncomfortable emotion. It's when you go to the shops and purchase 10 chocolate bars, a wheel of brie, a packet of Tim Tams, a tub of icecream and a box of chicken nuggets for your personal consumption instead of dealing with a situation. Emotional eating is usually done in secret, not socially. Emotional eating is NOT enjoying good food or having the occasional party pig-out. Totes different things.
Emotional or binge eating is a common problem, so I gather. Why am I writing this post? Well firstly, the other day I was airing my grievances about some Sugar Quitting Plans, and it got me thinking about how certain dietary advice seems to wash over the issue of emotional eating, which, in my opinion, is probably the main reason why people struggle with weight and diets.
This thing is, if you've had any experience with Emo Eating then you will know: it doesn't matter HOW well-intentioned your plan is, it doesn't matter HOW much you want to not look like a strangled caterpillar in your skinny jeans, it doesn't matter HOW high your motivation is at the start of your plan - emotional eating tends to butt-in and mess things up, amiright?
Any person who has experience Emotional Eating will know that often, when your resolve crumbles, nothing will stand between you and your junk food, in spite of your best intentions.
I have wrestled with emotional eating many times, like a lot of people. It's so frustrating when you have health and fitness goals but your stupid french fry mcflurry brain keeps butting in. I doubt my "case" is severe - I've had minor weight fluctuations over the years but I deal because I never really give up on the health goals, and, I'm vain, I guess. It's okay to press the reset button over and over again when it comes to healthy eating and what not. But okay - you need to get some control over that silly bingeing beast.
BUT WAIT: Please accept that sometimes these tactics will work, sometimes they won't.
I'll get this bit out of the way. The truth: I still do grapple with emo eating and the urge to clear out the confectionery aisle at Coles sometimes. Sometimes the tactics totally fail me, but a lot of the time, they work. That's why I just want to be honest and tell it like it is: you can't expect to read a book and have everything fall into place (you know what I mean - when even the action of purchasing the diet book makes you feel better?!). As far as I am aware, there's no cure, so you gotta be willing to try and fail and try again. I used to feel like I was powerless under some kind of food spell, and saw Emotional Eating as something I would just have to accept and deal with for life. But after reading the book, doing the homework and drawing on the tactics over a few years, I brought le power back to me, just to sound like total cheese. I do make bad decisions sometimes but a lot of the time I can make a good decision.
Again: Sometimes tactics to sidestep emotional eating urges will work; other times the Chocolate Bitch within will put up a fight and win. You know that situation. The Chocolate Bitch wants her treats and there's no way in hell she's going to go without. On those occasions there's probably very little chance of using any tactics because Chocolate Bitch has already hightailed to the shops and is dumping Snickers into your shopping basket. You can't really work with those situations because sometimes they just happen. They suck, but no one said you can't try to avoid it next time.
Don't despair, once you start thinking about this more consciously, more often that not there should be that little voice in your head that is wanting to fight the urge. THOSE are the little moments you can work with. You just have to hit pause for a minute. Then what?
1) Pause to question your urges and start asking yourself what's going on
The simple answer is that I try to be mindful of emotional eating (usually classified as eating naughty foods on the sneak) and coax myself out of using food as an emotion-suppressor. When people emotionally eat, it's usually because they are experiencing an uncomfortable feeling and they are desperate to shift the focus away from that feeling. They attempt do this by distracting themselves with food. When you suppress an emotion with food, it doesn't solve the underlying problem, it just pushes it away for the problem to resurface later.
2) Have an imaginary conversation with that little voice inside your head
Sometimes if I want to talk myself out of burying my emotions in a Pity Pizza, I will take a few moments to have an internal dialogue with myself. For example, if something demoralising happens to you, your habitual inkling might be to find a treat to comfort yourself with. That's not going to deal with the issue. A better response might be to engage in some internal dialogue with that chastising voice in your head. The voice in your head might be berating you, telling you how useless you are, but you might just say to it, "That situation wasn't my fault, I did the best I could, and actually, I did pretty well in handling it because XYZ". Turn the negative into a positive - whatever is relevant to the situation. Counsel yourself in a kind and encouraging way, like a friend would. In essence, by engaging in this internal dialogue you are dealing with the emotion then and there, not squishing it with food. If you deal with it then and there, you are empowered, and you will probably even learn a valuable lesson, or come up with a great course of action for moving forward. If you squish it with food, the issue is unresolved and you don't grow at all (except for your bottom and pot belly).
3) Remember that if you allow yourself to experience the emotion you will become a stronger person
Since having a few party tricks in my backback, I know that, even if I occasionally flop, there are countless other times where I have and will be able to make positive choices, without it being much of a struggle. Just remember, success comes from jumping back up every time you fall, and the more you flex your muscles (your tactics) the stronger they will become.
Please leave a comment if you have any experiences or tips you'd like to share.
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