Breaking Emotional Eating Habits

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Triggers For Emotional Eating

The idea of getting help with emotional eating is all well and good but what we really need to know is how do we go about breaking emotional eating habits. And in pursuit of this it would help if we understood the causes of these emotions that have led to these habits in the first place.

And there are many such causes, but one of the most emotional times in life is when you’re faced with an important change.

Even if it’s for the better, change can be a scary thing, especially if what lies beyond is unknown and we’re not sure of what to expect.

The change could be anything:

  • Break up from a serious relationship

  • Break up from an unhealthy relationship

  • Moving home

  • Moving location

  • Changing job

  • Loss of job / income

  • Loss of loved one

  • Myriad other possibilities

And naturally, right around these moments, you’re going to be in an elevated emotional state.

Generally more stressed or sadder than you normally are, and thus making it a target time for emotional eating.

Even some positive life changes, such as a move or marriage, can drive you to eat emotionally because, although it’s rooted in happiness, these times are still a source of stress based on an unknown future.

As such, the triggers for emotional eating are quite personal: while you may be excited to be going on holiday or moving to a new town or city, others may find it increasingly stressful.

  • Indeed, any emotional situation is a case in which emotional eating can become a thing.

Of course, emotions and stress are a normal part of life, but it’s how we react to these things that determine our outcome, not whether or not they’re triggers for emotional eating.

How to Fight Emotional Eating Stress

Let’s have a look at stress because stress is certainly one of the most common reasons people turn to emotional eating (along with boredom, as emotional eating is, basically, comfort eating).

  • But instead of eating due to stress you need to address your stress in a different way.

Given the reality of this, the way to fight emotional eating due to stress is to actually focus on combating the stress, not the emotional eating directly.

The way to fight emotional eating due to stress is to actually focus on combating the stress, not the emotional eating directly. Click To Tweet

And there are many activities that can be employed that have been shown to reduce stress (although the effectiveness of any activity depends on the individual).

Let’s consider some of the most effective ones:

Activities To Help with Emotional Eating

Interacting With Your Pets

If you really love animals and you have pets, then you’re most likely going to see a significant decrease in stress from spending time with them, petting them and playing with them.

Listening To Music

Many people also have stress relieving reactions to certain types of music, and when they get caught up in listening to their favorite songs their bodies calm down.

  • It doesn’t have to be traditional calming music—it’s whatever makes YOU feel calmer and happier.

Exercising

The benefits of exercise are numerous, including that of helping with stress and relieving it.

Exercise gets your blood pumping and lets your body get distracted from whatever it is that’s making you stressed out.

Whether it’s going for a 20 minute walk or spending two hours lifting weights, exercise is a great way to blow off steam and release feel good chemicals into your system.

Meditation

Meditation can feel like a catch-all for many things, and stress is one of them.

Meditation calms your mind and slows your breathing and heartrate, which has the knock-on effect of lowering your stress.

There are many apps and websites that you can turn to for mediation, and sometimes it feels like a new one pops up every day, but we recommend WakingUp (no affiliation). It has practice and theory and is secular in its approach (so no new-age waffle).

Distraction

  • What all of this really boils down to is doing something that you enjoy that’s a distraction—bonus points if it’s also productive—so anything that increases or requires focus is a likely candidate for something that can work (assuming it’s not something stressful).

So whatever it is that helps you become the most distracted is what you should do, at least at first.

  • As long as it’s not eating (and is otherwise healthy), of course.

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Of course, stress is not the only route to emotional eating, and another common one is entitled thinking.

Is Entitled Thinking Driving Your Emotional Eating?

Entitled thinking is often seen in thinking that you deserve some kind of reward.

  • For example, if you had a hard day at work where everyone got on your nerves, that could be the cause for your desire to eat emotionally because it’s a surrogate of the reward that you think you deserve.

Other times you may think that you’re above all of the hardships that you have to face, so you deserve a little treat. And that treat is a bunch of goodies and junk food.

This sort of reward system mindset is entitled and far from healthy.

Life IS Hard, And Unfair

  • Think of it this way, if you’re not actually working towards the things you think you do deserve then you don’t actually deserve them anyway.

Unless it’s something essential, then you can’t say you deserve it without having worked for it.

Entitled thinking is a form of victim mindset that seems to comfort you through hard times. But this is largely an illusion as all it’s done is momentarily distract you.

In truth, this type of thinking is a saboteur on your ability to strengthen yourself to hardships and to succeed.

Entitled thinking is a form of victim mindset that seems to comfort you through hard times—but really it's a saboteur on your ability to strengthen yourself to hardships and to succeed. Click To Tweet

Indeed, by changing your thought process like this you’ll become many times more enabled in managing your emotions and the need you have for emotional props, and one of the very earliest results you’ll see is that you’re more capable of resisting emotional eating.

Such is the result of becoming more disciplined and headstrong.

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However, this isn’t to say that these emotions that we’re experiencing are bad things and that we really want to be able to get rid of them for good. This is very much not the case.

After all, being human means being emotional, so maybe a wise plan of attack is to also become familiar with these emotions of ours…

Sit With Your Emotions

Being with ourselves in our own thoughts is a scary notion for some, and rather than engage with our emotions many of us prefer to distract ourselves with something else instead.

Obviously there are many ways of doing this, with TV being the most common choice for filling voids of time, but emotional eating is another, and it goes hand in hand with watching TV as well.

Reflect

When you start to use food as a solace you might have something specific in mind that you’re upset about, like a breakup, or you might just be doing it because you’re avoiding something that you’re not very aware of.

Examples of such things is uncountable, maybe it was just that someone said something rude to you and it stuck with you throughout the day, so you eat a lot more later on so you’re either not thinking about it, or it gives you something to do while you mull over the conversation with things you should or shouldn’t have said.

But again, this is a prop. In the first instance you’re hiding, and in the second you’re seeking comfort while doing it.

  • Don’t hide from moments like this by eating food. Rather, reflect, sit with, and be with your thoughts and emotions, then work through them logically.

And a good way to start practicing this is by getting into meditation.

Meditation

We spoke about this briefly above with assisting with lowering stress, but that’s hardly the only benefit of meditation.

  • Being able to clear your mind and just sit calmly is a great way to learn self-control (which is so important for handling emotions and developing emotional maturity).

Meditate (focus) on the emotion itself.

  • How does it feel?

  • Where do you feel it? In your head, your chest, your stomach?

  • How does it change when you focus on it?

  • See if you can disconnect your self from the emotion so it becomes a subject/object relationship instead.

  • Realise that you’re simply a chemical being that, against all odds, has found itself inside infinity, and that this emotion is simply a product of the mechanics of these chemicals inside that being.

For certain, when you’re able to focus on how you’re feeling you gain a lot of clarity, about yourself and emotions, which helps you overcome life’s obstacles much more adeptly than emotionally eating does.

Start Small And Progress

  • Try and also work your way up through your emotions.

Start with some lesser ones so that you get a grip on it. If you dive straight into your harshest and most brutal emotions, then you’re going to have a hard time handling them.

  • “Why were you upset when someone cut you off in traffic” would be a good example. Don’t start by going into deeper seeded childhood traumas.

The end result is that you will be able to handle your emotions as they come to you—without this ability you will act irrationally.

If you have a good grip on your mindset you’re going to have a much better time dealing with things and letting them go, or at least looking at them rationally so you can create a plan of action to get past it.

3 Steps To Beat Emotional Eating

However, with all that said, when the urge to eat strikes it can certainly be difficult to pass it up, even if you’re not hungry. Eating can be so tempting, so comforting, and you might not even think twice about it if it’s something that you’re used to doing.

However, you need to learn how to stop the urge and fight it when it hits.

If you don’t then you’re just going to keep on falling into the same habit again and again, and emotional eating will remain a thing for you.

Here are 3 strong steps to help you beat emotional eating.

Step One

  • The first step is you need to notice when you feel the urge.

You don’t necessarily need to do anything about it at first, just learn to identify the difference between genuine hunger and an emotional eating urge.

Hunger is often something that’s felt in the stomach, whereas emotional cravings are psychological and in the head.

Decide to become more aware of your feelings surrounding this issue and over time and with practice it’ll get easy to notice the difference and which one you’re feeling.

And once you get to a point where you can easily identify emotional eating urges, your task then is to only:

  • Wait for the next urge to strike.

Step Two

And when it does strike, don’t go straight to the kitchen or to get the fast food.

  • Set yourself a ten minute timer.

Do whatever else you want during these 10 minutes to distract yourself, and see if you can make it through that ten minutes.

Distraction
  • During the 10 minutes, try your best to engage in habits that help you experience joy.

It doesn’t matter what it is:

  • Talking to a friend

  • Watching something

  • Painting

  • A puzzle

  • Juggling

  • Singing

  • Dancing

  • Gardening

  • Whatever

If you really, truly, can’t wait out that 10 minutes then you might just not be ready yet. That’s okay. Just try again next time.

If you succeed in those 10 minutes then feel free to emotionally eat something if you still feel the urge, but next time it’s onto step 3.

Step Three

  • Step 3 is simply increasing the time between feeling the urge and acting on it.

If you can make it through a total of twenty minutes you’ll probably start thinking about whether or not you want to even bother with the eating anymore.

Over time, sooner or later, you’ll beat the urge to eat (at least until you feel genuinely hungry).

Remember Your Emotions

And while you’re waiting for this urge to go away try thinking about how you’re feeling emotionally at that time and why.

As touched on above, facing your emotions directly is a very important skill to learn, as without it you’ll be prone to emotional reasoning, i.e. thinking errors, which are not good for any future prospects, emotional eating or otherwise.

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Learning how to fight emotional eating can be a drawn out process and is something that likely won’t be fixed within a couple of days—it will probably take weeks, if not months, of perserverance.

But you will win, and you will be breaking emotional eating habits if you just stick with the process.

It’s worth remembering that food is something that should be enjoyable but also viewed as a fuel and a source of nutrition—it should not be viewed as a source of comfort or act as a crutch to prop you up in times of turmoil.

  • That’s how a drug addict thinks. That is, drugs are emotional props.

And although we should have a healthy relationship with food we should also realise that we don’t, really, have a relationship with food at all. We have relationships with people.

Although we should have a healthy relationship with food we should also realise that we don't, really, have a relationship with food at all. We have relationships with people. Click To Tweet

Over time, you’ll get better and better at denying the urge to eat emotionally. You’ll also have an easier time doing so.

Not having your urge to emotional eat weigh you down will lead to a happier life in general and you’ll feel more in control.

And although emotional eating doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain, you’ll also likely experience a healthier body and a clearer mind to go along with you losing the urge to emotionall eat.

You won’t be so bogged down by your emotions and you’ll feel a lot more in control.

If you want to know the ins and outs of emotional eating and not just the habit portion, get the book!

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