Emotional. Eating. Is. A. Biggie. I think everyone can relate to emotional eating on some level, just depending on the severity.
The most basic type of emotional eating we can probably all relate to is the kind we feed into (literally) when we experience long or stressful days, or are just going through a rough time in our lives. This can also swing in the opposite direction, leading to underconsumption…but if we’re talking about overeating here, when we’re working long hours, spending our days constantly in that same routine that we may or may not even enjoy, there’s perhaps not much we have to look forward to other than that big bowl of cereal or ice cream waiting for us when we get home.
Now why would this be considered emotional eating? Well, in a way we’re using food in these situations like a drug. And it makes sense why we have such a difficult time staying away from sugary and junky foods- because of the powerful impact that these foods have on the reward centers of our brains! They actually have a similar affect on us as abusive drugs like cocaine, heroine, and other narcotics do. So the affect you get from eating ice cream, potato chips, and cookies are honestly no joke. If you’re trying to change the way you eat, you’re basically having to kick a drug habit, and that’s not easy (food just hasn’t become illegal, yet).
So how can we refrain from using food as a drug to boost our emotions and get that dopamine rush? Let’s take it back to the beginning…
When we’re born and as we grow, what’s basically built into us and what we learn at a very young age is to avoid pain and discomfort and move towards pleasure and reward, right? Well, food is one of the easiest ways to serve as that quick access to those feelings of pleasure and reward. This trait can in a way almost screw us over a bit because when it comes to giving into guilty pleasures to escape this pain and discomfort we’re experiencing, we’re training ourselves to completely avoid these feelings, and are not getting properly taught how to deal with experiencing emotions that aren’t the most pleasurable. We need to train ourselves and develop the ability to tolerate experiencing life’s inevitable bad feelings, practice letting ourselves experience anger, sadness, rejection, boredom, whatever it may be, and not try to run away from it. Eating to suppress feelings is emotional eating, because you’re rejecting the true emotions that are trying to come out, and not getting to the root of whatever problem you’re having.
If you feel like you are a person that can relate to this type of emotional eating, do not fear! You can absolutely get out of this cycle. But instead of flailing your arms and running in the opposite direction from the problem, the first thing you need to do is accept and forgive yourself. Right now. It’s not just you being weak that’s making this seem extra hard, it’s the fact that you’ve in a way been enslaved to your own food (and might be battling something else at the same time). Keep in mind that there’s added sugar in about 80% of all grocery store items, so even if you’re really trying to be healthy, it can sneak its way in there and keep you hooked.
In situations where you suddenly realize that you’ve committed several nights of food binging in the past week or month, and it strikes you that you’ve been “bad,” don’t PANIC. It is good to acknowledge when you’ve wound up in some type of bad cycle that needs fixing, but acknowledging means accepting, collecting yourself, and going forth with your mind set on fixing the problem. This quote might help; “If you want things to turn around for your highest good you must keep your faith, release fear, and keep your focus on solutions.”
Lastly and most importantly, something that should help is figuring out and remembering your why. Why are you eating the way you’re eating, why are you eating these bad things that you know aren’t making you happy other than in the moment? What else are you experiencing in your life? Is there a family issue going on? Are you not happy with your job right now? Are you grieving? If the primary thing in your life bringing you pleasure right now is food, I’d say you need to reevaluate the big picture, and start by focusing on figuring out how to make your life more enjoyable overall before you try to just “go on a diet” and expect that to fix all of your problems.
So if you’re an emotional eater, which I think we all are guilty of at some time or another…know that you’re O.K. Take a look at the bigger picture, figure out the root of the problem (if that’s self acceptance or some other external issue), and focus on ways to fix that first. We should be able to enjoy ourselves from time to time, and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. Indulging from time to time is not something you need to get beat up or emotional about! As long as the bigger picture is going in a positive direction, you’re doing great.
Remember to eat healthy because you love yourself and respect yourself enough to do so. You’re doing yourself a good deed every time you put something healthy in your body, creating a better quality life for yourself.
All the best,