Emotional eating is a term most people have heard and almost everyone has experienced. In its simplest form, emotional eating means eating to feed an inner, psychological need rather than a physical one (hunger).
Being an emotional eater can mean different things depending on the person, so let’s dive right into some examples and talk about how to address it.
What Does Emotional Eating Look Like?
Everyone has been an emotional eater at some point in their life. Whether it’s reaching for that pint of ice cream after a bad break up because of heartbreak or you diving into a bag of chips when feeling stressed or anxious, we eat in response to emotions when we’re trying to avoid or distract ourselves from those emotions.
These examples sound pretty harmless, and often, they can be. But for some people, emotional eating can begin to negatively affect their everyday life and wellbeing. At its more extreme level, emotional eating can snowball into bigger problems, such as low self-esteem, unnatural weight gain, isolation, body dysmorphia, and even eating disorders like binge eating or bulimia.
If you are struggling with emotional eating, no matter how extreme, I’m here to tell you that there is a way to free yourself from the cycle. You can enjoy a healthy relationship with food. And it all begins with a little practice Sarah talks about a lot on her site: self-love. 🙂
Believe it or not, emotional eating can be a weird sort of blessing if you learn to understand it well. Emotional eaters are often more sensitive and better tuned into their emotions than other people. With a little mindfulness, this can be an amazing tool for healing.
Here are some ways you can work through self-love to move away from emotional eating:
Free Yourself From Guilt and Dieting
This is the most crucial step in healing your relationship with food. Take a moment right now and tell yourself, “I free myself from guilt around food.” Repeat it again and again. Even write it down if you need to.
A lot of emotional and binge eating comes down to negative feelings around what you choose to eat. If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown up in a dieting culture where everyone seems to be seeking the perfect body and not showing themselves very much respect in the process.
As a result, most people are continuously on a diet. And you know the thing about diets? They aren’t realistic for anyone. So, that eventually leads to “cheating” or binging on “forbidden” foods, followed by guilt for eating those foods.
This process doesn’t serve any of us, my friends! Instead, let’s approach food from a place of love and respect for our bodies. Only from that place can we begin to find peace.
Analyze Your Cravings
You might be surprised to know that cravings don’t solely exist to sabotage your weight or happiness. They can actually help you understand what’s going on with yourself—physically and emotionally.
When you eat in response to your emotions rather than hunger, your body is telling you something needs to be addressed. This allows you to better give yourself what you really need.
For example, pay attention to what foods you tend to crave—and when you crave them. It can help to keep track of this and notice any patterns. Try this: during at least the next two weeks, keep a journal and make records of the following each time you eat:
- What time of the day is it?
- How am I feeling?
- Do I actually want the food I’m eating? Why or why not?
- What do I like/not like about this food?
- How did this food make me feel after eating it?
- What do I really need right now?
Also, work on doing this without judgment. This is not a dieting technique to get you to eat less; remember: it’s guilt free! The point is to just help you observe yourself and better understand your needs.
You might find that when you binge on chocolate late at night, you’re actually feeling lonely and could really just use a hug or a good cry. Or maybe you eat past fullness during the day to avoid the feelings of stress during your job.
After you’ve been able to analyze these eating patterns, you can start finding ways to emotional eating and binging with other healthier practices. Some examples could be:
- Taking a few minutes to meditate and breathe deeply when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Going for a walk and paying attention to the beautiful nature outside.
- Calling or texting a friend about your day.
- Listening to music or watching a funny TV show.
- Cuddling with your dog or cat before bed.
- Journaling your feelings.
Think about some non-food ways you can show yourself love and kindness.
Practice Mindful Eating
Living with mindfulness is so important for mental health, and mindful eating is no exception. Like I said before, emotional eating is often used to distract yourself, so it’s pretty mindless. These mindful eating tips can help you move away from that and begin to appreciate your food without guilt:
- Ask yourself what you actually LIKE to eat (versus what you think you SHOULD eat). If you have a history of dieting, you might not feel like you can trust yourself to eat what you like. But it’s that self-distrust and guilt that usually leads to emotional eating in the first place. By figuring out what foods you enjoy, you begin to eliminate that guilt and often end up eating less naturally because you actually enjoy your choices!
- Breathe deeply. Before you eat your next meal, give yourself a moment to sit and take a deep breath. For a few moments, feel gratitude for this access to delicious food.
- Explore your senses. How does the food you’re eating look? Check out its colors and textures. How does it smell and feel? What about the taste? Is it sweet, salty, savory? How do you feel chewing or drinking it? Allow this to be a playful practice that lets you fully enjoy what you’re eating and bring better satisfaction with your meal.
- Notice your fullness levels. This doesn’t mean being militant about portions or counting calories. Just observe your level of hunger before, during, and after eat meal. Give yourself permission to eat while also paying attention to how your body feels.
Understand Your Food
One of the best things you can do for your physical health is to better understand what’s in the food you eat. For example, eating a plant-based diet helped my emotional eating by leaps and bounds because it allowed me to attach meaning to food choices that were beyond just myself. I knew I was eating foods conducive to less animal cruelty and less strain on our environment while also giving myself great nutrition each day.
Do some research into the nutritional information of your favorite foods. Learn about what certain foods do for your body, and focus on receiving as many health benefits as possible when you eat. Think fresh fruits, veggies, beans, and other whole foods that don’t need to come with a label. Have fun with different combinations and explore what works for you. What a great way to practice self-care for your body!
Now, with that being said, it’s also important to know that perfectionism is the enemy of emotional and binge eating. Healthy eating is important, but just like dieting, it can be taken too far and become an outlet for control and guilt.
So, go easy on you. Overcoming emotional eating takes time and work, and you will get there. Continue practicing understanding towards yourself, be aware of food without judgment, and focus on choices that help you love yourself more each day.
You’ve got this!
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Lauren is a Plant-Based Wellness Advisor and Freelance Health and Wellness Writer who is passionate about helping people heal issues like emotional eating, anxiety, and low self-esteem through natural self-care and mindfulness practices. Her mission is to bring more compassion into the world, especially in the way we treat ourselves. When she’s not writing, you can find Lauren doing crazy at-home workouts while watching Netflix, spending quality time with her two dogs and cat, or baking up healthy vegan desserts to share. For even more information on emotional eating and mindful eating, you can download her free ebooks, Ease Out of Emotional Eating and 5 Ways to Be a More Mindful Eater.
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