Do you do it? Are you certain?
Before I began my own health changes, I probably would have answered ‘No.’ I thoroughly understood I was overeating and was sedentary, but I don’t think I believed I was an emotional eater. I would have guessed myself a stress eater, but I didn’t view that as being an “emotional” eater. Stress eating was normal in my mind. Hell, everyone stress eats, but that was different. Stress does that, right? Stress makes you do odd things…eating to cope isn’t so bad when stress is the culprit.
Uhhhh, that was kinda looney thinking, right?!
Why I had that distinction I don’t know. Why I even thought that distinction made sense, I also don’t know. I think I believed emotional eating was closer to binge eating and I most certainly didn’t want to identify or place myself in that category. It was all about denial and being uneducated. Doesn’t really matter WHAT my thinking was then. What matters is I learned, I identified, and I took measures to improve. Same goes for you!
So what does emotional eating mean exactly?
Emotional eating is eating food to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. At the heart of it, emotional eating is using food as comfort, as a way to avoid the uncomfortable feelings.
Ultimately, to completely get over emotional eating you will have to deal with your emotions. Get uncomfortable. Honor them. Work through them. Slow down and take time to process them.
I found that too difficult when I first drew the parallel that I was, in fact, eating for emotional soothing versus hunger. I wasn’t ready to tackle the core of the problem…in fact, 5 years later I’m STILL learning about how to process some of my emotions versus eat my way through them. (Time!! This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Time!!)
Although how I began learning to stop reaching for food was different than what I’m advising here, I do now use these strategies. When I began working through some of my emotional eating challenges I didn’t have someone helping me or trying to guide me…I simply was flying by the seat of my pants and using common sense and what I thought was practical.
You might find yourself going about this in a different sequence than I recommend below, just like I did. Don’t be afraid of that! All this health information that I give you, along with countless gurus out there, isn’t meant to be a rigid how-to. Rather, I want you to view the strategies I give you as options. Things to try. Thing to digest and think upon. Things to stuff in the back of your brain and ruminate on…you might be surprised when these tidbits of info pop up when you need them.
For me personally, I had an A-ha! moment with my emotions. I made a serious connection with the fact that my emotions, in particular anger, drove me to drown that emotion in the cupboard or the fridge. I am intensely sensitive, by that I mean I feel others emotions acutely. I’m also quite emotional. My feelings come in strong waves and come on quickly and fiercely. They are difficult to handle and manage and understand.
I’m kind of afraid of them actually, anger in particular. It is hard to admit, embarrassing even, but I am an awful human being when I’m angry. I don’t get physical, but I get mean. In an effort to quell the awful things that roll off my tongue when I’m mad I think I stuff(ed) that emotion down and then would cope with it by eating something for comfort, to take the edge off.
It was in this A-ha! moment that I was so frustrated that I ordered myself to not let myself get derailed. It wasn’t a forethought, it wasn’t a strategy, it was more anger actually. I was pissed at myself and the situation and I simply couldn’t do it anymore. That moment was a turning point. I was able to make the connection between an emotion and reaching for food. I began to pay attention to when I went pillaging for food. And lots of time it was NOT because I was hungry.
So what is the big strategy? How do you begin to identify emotional eating and then stop it?
I advocate for learning when you are hungry and what hungry feels like FIRST.
Then I advocate for digging into your emotions and actually dealing with them SECOND.
Why this order?
Because at this stage I’m guessing you are still in the middle of everything…trying to figure out how to change your habits, move more, and eat better. It’s highly overwhelming at first to get some solid habits in place and feel like you are getting some forward momentum. I’m also guessing you may not be ready to begin the difficult work of facing emotions and dealing with them. (If you are ready to dig into your emotions, then fantastic…do that!!) Know this: at some point you are going to HAVE to deal with your emotions…you won’t stay healthy if you don’t. But you can make some other connections first and then work toward the harder stuff.
So, like I said, first begin by:
Finding out what hungry feels like to you.
The easiest way to begin to find out how hunger presents itself in your body is in the morning (or after you have your prolonged sleep if you happen to work odd shifts). When you wake up, what do you feel like? Journal this daily for awhile if you need to, so you can make a concrete connection between your mind and how you feel. You want to get very clear on what YOUR body’s physical signs of hunger are!
Typical hunger cues are:
- Feeling of emptiness in stomach
- Gurgling, rumbling or growling in stomach
- Dizziness, faintness or light-headedness
- Irritability, easily agitated
- Lack of concentration
- Shaking or trembling
- Burning/gnawing sensation in the stomach area
- Hands/feet may be slightly cooler than the room you are in
Then, after you have begun to identify your personal hunger cues, you can:
Find when you feel these things again during the day.
Most times, people will be hungry 3-5 hours after eating. If you ate at 6:30 am, begin to pay attention to what your body is telling you mid-morning. Are you feeling the same sensations at 10 am as you did at 6 am? Asking yourself the question “Am I hungry?” or “Is that hunger coming on?” can help you discern what you might be feeling physically. See if you can begin to map what your body is doing when it is hungry AND how long you typically go before feeling hungry again. Again, a quick jot in a journal can be your best tool for making connections.
(Time between meals will vary, particularly with what you decide to eat. This is another layer to getting to know yourself. What foods satisfy you longer? What combo keeps you humming along all morning long? Do you feel a mid-morning slump if you don’t eat protein for breakfast? This is more an FYI of what is to come as you learn your body. Don’t get too hung up here if you are still learning hunger cues. Just stuff to consider and keep in the back of your mind for the future.)
Emotional eating is not something that is turned off like the flip of a switch. It takes practice and effort…and feeling uncomfortable. Know that taking small steps is sooooo okay! This journey for improving your health is simply a small part of your journey in self-discovery. Self-discovery is ongoing…it’s a life-long thing, so there is no need to rush through your self-improvements.
Learn! Improve! Tweak! Try! Keep on keeping on! <— Do this and the results will come!
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