I learned how to stop emotional eating because I have been there. It starts with you just a few crackers, then it moves to a spoonful of peanut butter and before I knew it what was happening I was elbow deep in a bag of chips.
I went to bed exhausted, feeling sick to my stomach from overeating, feeling out of control and knowing I was sabotaging myself.
Can you relate?
It happens to most of us. You don’t have to finish the bag of chips and all the chocolate in the house to be considered an emotional eater.
This phenomenon can strike at any time when you find yourself eating for reasons other than satisfying actual physical hunger.
My education about how to stop emotional eating comes from my own journey with emotional eating since the age of 11 years old and as well as my education in the psychology of nutrition. Up until a few years ago, I believed, like most women – that ending emotional eating and food cravings was all about self-discipline and determination. Little did I know, food cravings and emotional eating had nothing to do with discipline but rather it was all about my thoughts and emotions.
Let’s take a step back so we can learn how to stop emotional eating most effectively.
Emotional Eating = The Need for Balance
Homeostasis is the process that the body goes through to maintain a comfortable and healthy balance in both the body and the mind (emotional body). Simply said – we are wired to be healthy and happy. A very simple example of physical homeostasis is the body shivering at night when it’s too cold, makes you yawn at night when its time to go to sleep or makes you thirsty when you are dehydrated.
Balance or homeostasis is also the desired state for our mind or emotional body. A great example of this is when we feel stress or anxious about a certain situation in our life. Your body innate desire for balance will direct you to take action(s) to bring back balance. Based on your learned behaviours and past experiences the action you may be to eat a certain food that makes you feel better and less anxious. In my case it was chips. I use to crave chips every night when I crashed on the couch after an exhausting day of work. This chips was present as a means you need to correct your emotional state of mind of stress and anxiety.
The Difference Between Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger
The first step in the process to stop emotional eating solution is to first learn the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. The chart below should be of great help. I suggest that you print it and post it somewhere to quickly refer to it as you begin your journey to solve your food cravings.
To learn how to stop emotional eating, you must become really comfortable in distinguishing physical versus emotional hunger. Here’s my quick way: physical hunger is in your stomach and you can feel it. Emotional eating is sudden, in your head and most of the time associated with guilt and shame.
Identifying Your Emotional Triggers
What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.
The be able to identify our triggers we must first be able to feel our emotions which for many of us is difficult. When I ask patients to tell me how they feel when they crave a certain food I very often get a blank look. This is totally normal self-preservation mechanism: its called disconnection. Over time and experience of pain we have “disconnected” from our body and our ability to feel our emotions because it’s too painful. This is the first step on how to stop emotional eating.
The 4 Steps to Listen to Your Emotions
As part of the Dodier Protocol we learn to “reconnect” ourselves to our body and emotions so we can learn our triggers and move away from emotional eating as a coping mechanism.
- Impose a 15 minute cooling off period. Ask yourself if this is an actual real physical hunger signal or an emotional craving. In most cases, it will be an emotional craving so you will need to be present to what is going on in your life. If you still crave it after the 15 minutes cooling off period, go for it.
- Get away from food. Simple but effective. If you are driving home from work and crave chips, do not stop at the corner store. Drink water as sometimes the need for water gets confused with hunger.
- Breath and feel.Take time to breathe deeply during the cooling off period and feel what is going on in your life, gut and heart. Ask yourself what emotions are being triggered. Admit to yourself what is happening and that admittance is usually enough to relieve most cravings.
- Replace the negative emotion (fear) with love. Remind yourself of a happy situation where you felt love, happiness or joy and attempt to feel the positive emotion in your gut. Fill yourself up with the positive emotion. A negative and positive emotion cannot occupy the same place. You can also use an affirmation such as “ I forgive, accept and trust myself”.
Type of Emotional Triggers
Stress– Stress makes us hungry. It’s not just in your mind. When you are stress it leads to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure.
Boredom or feelings of emptiness– Eating keeps us busy. We sometimes eat to give ourselves something to do, relieve boredom or even fill a void in our life. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying lack of purpose and dissatisfaction with our life.
Childhood habits– Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? This emotionally based childhood habits often carry over into adulthood. Or perhaps some of your eating is driven by memories— family gathering, specific food serve at a holiday function, a meal or dessert your mom use to cook for you.
Social influences– Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.
Uncomfortable emotions– Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or suppress uncomfortable emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. For me, rejection or fear of rejection was a big deal. While I was numbing myself with food, I do not feel the uncomfortable emotion that I’d rather not feel.
How to Stop Emotional Eating: Options
If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long and stop emotional eating. This is the whole problem with dieting. Diets so often fail in long term because they focus only food, as if the only thing keeping you from eating right is knowledge of the right food to eat and how much to eat. But that kind of advice only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when your subconscious mind aka your emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate relief with food.
If you think you need help to stop emotional eating this is exactly why I created my program called Crave Cure Guide which provides you with nutritional knowledge but a most important address the emotional component to weight loss. The Crave Cure Guide is the perfect formula between food awareness and emotional awareness which lead to permanent weight loss.
Share your thoughts: Do you think it’s possible for you to stop emotional eating patterns? How will you feel once you are no longer stuffing your emotions with food?