Emotional eating is a way to self soothe when faced with problems or emotions you don’t want to, choose not to or are unsure of how to deal with. From every day stressors to traumatic life events, food is often the easiest way to numb what you’re unwilling or can’t seem to heal from.
This post is not an easy one for me to write. It’s one of those intensely personal things that I pretend isn’t real and definitely isn’t an issue however, the reality is I struggle with it… daily. It says in the picture above that I’ll offer 5 coping strategies to help you control the emotional eating (based off what has worked for me) but I’m not sure I can ever truly be 100% cured. I’ll go into detail on this in just a bit. Don’t feel hopeless, though! The strategies I list at the end of this article will help you tame the emotional eating dragon that rages within you.
And that is what helps you feel empowered enough to continually make different choices.
Above all, show yourself grace in large amounts. Everyone, whether they outwardly express it or not, has personal trials of their own. Living with an eating disorder does not make you less! You have immense value beyond what you’re able to perceive. We all stumble, we all have our faults, we’re all seeking healing. ♥
5 Tips to Determine if You’re an Emotional Eater
- You eat in response to stress, joy, boredom, loneliness or any other strong emotion.
- The hunger feels urgent.
- You eat beyond the natural point of feeling full or when you’re not even hungry.
- You crave specific foods (mostly carbs).
- You have endured some sort of emotional trauma, more than likely during childhood.
- You don’t want people to know how much you truly eat.
- You aren’t even sure how much you’ve eaten.
- You feel like there is no point in eating healthfully if you can’t be perfect at it.
- You eat in secret then feel guilty for doing so.
- Healthy food doesn’t even sound good.
I would say that in order to appropriately categorize yourself as an emotional eater, you should probably be able to recognize at least 5 out of the 10 traits in yourself. However, you probably just know that you either are or you aren’t. And most likely, if you’re reading this article it’s because you feel like you are.
So how do you recognize your binge eating triggers?
One way is to keep an emotions and food journal. Write down how you felt before a binge, during and after. What did you eat? What happened to make you feel this way? Who did you interact with? How did the food make you feel? It probably won’t take you too long to determine the source. For me, it wasn’t that hard nor did it come as a big surprise. I’d like to share with you what started it all for me..
Much of my emotional eating stems from childhood. My youngest brother was diagnosed with Autism, OCD, Bipolar and Tourette syndrome but before he officially received his diagnosis, and even for a while after, our whole family struggled with how to handle him. My parents, who had adopted him as a newborn, were reeling emotionally from the weight of it all.
During these years, my Mom, who was already prone to having a short temper, lashed out with anger, yelling and an overall cold demeanor. In my opinion, she was desperate for control over the whole situation so she controlled us kids (4 in total) with an over abundance of rules, chores and expectations that were impossible to achieve. Stress and tension levels were always high and I cried myself to sleep most nights.
Anyway, Mom would go grocery shopping every Saturday and I always remember eagerly awaiting the one box of crackers she would get me as a snack. I would snarf that thing down in a matter of minutes. Mom was amazing at cooking meals, an absolutely wonderful cook, but she would normally only buy the ingredients she would need and not many snacks at all. It’s hard to binge on cream of chicken in a can or a 10lb bag of potatoes. 😉 During meals, she only made enough for each person to have an appropriate portion so there was never the option to over eat during meals. But my box of crackers, wow, I looked forward to that each and every week. And so it began.
So what exactly are my triggers? Yelling, tension and stress. As a child, I never knew how to deal with those things in a healthy manner so as an adult, it’s easiest for me to simply resort back to what I did do to cope. Only now, I have much more food available to me since I’m an adult and I can just go get it.
After years of trial and error, I’d like to share with you some strategies that help me control the emotional eating dragon within me and hopefully it offers you some help as well. Like I said before, I’m not sure my emotional eating can ever be cured because I can’t erase the emotional trauma of my childhood (note that I shared an abbreviated version of my story that is very light on the details) but having successful moments fuels more successful moments. And just like a muscle, the more you exercise these coping strategies, the easier they are to implement until one day, maybe months or even years from now, it all becomes second nature.
5 Coping Strategies to Help You Control Emotional Eating
#1 Be careful of super strict diets. In theory, these sound like the cure for emotional eating but it’s absolutely not unless you go about it the right way. Depriving yourself completely of what makes you feel (temporarily) happy, fulfilled and safe without addressing the emotions behind it all will only pendulum swing you in the opposite direction and practically set you up for inevitable failure (binge eating). Now, this is not the case for everyone. There are some people who have insane grit and can literally wake up and never eat anything unhealthy once they set their mind to it but most of us are not that way. However, if you still have the desire to give a strict program a try, and do it the right way, I highly suggest completing a Whole30. This method can be a helpful tool in educating yourself about the differences between emotional eating and true hunger. It can also help food addicts become clean, so to speak. But do not ever enter into a strict program without properly setting yourself up for success by being knowledgeable about the program, fully prepared (mentally, emotionally and via grocery shopping), determined and committed.
#2 Eat plenty of healthy fat. Why? Because it keeps you feeling fuller, longer. These include olives, coconut oil, avocados, almonds, ghee, olive oil, coconut butter, sunflower seeds, cashews and more.
#3 Snack smarter. That means, buy healthy alternatives to your favorite snacks or even make them homemade! Regardless, always be prepared. Stash healthy snacks in your car, purse, house and office.#4 Take the broccoli test. People don’t emotionally eat because they’re physically hungry, they do because they’re emotionally hungry. (1) An easy way to recognize if you’re actually hungry or just reacting out of emotion is to simply ask yourself if you would eat broccoli right now? If yes, eat! If not, don’t!
#5 Change your mindset and focus on the source of your emotional eating. “Emotional eating only suppresses feelings. It doesn’t change them.” (2) Learn your triggers, learn the source of the problem and address it head on. Don’t think this is a willpower thing because it’s not! It’s an emotional hunger. Recognizing your triggers is powerful and so is choosing to not be powerless.
It’s easy to simply say you’re an emotional eater then move on but actually realizing the emotions that drive you to over eat then facing them head on is a whole different story. Are you prepared to do that? Are you ready to let difficult emotions surface then deal with them? Until that happens, until you allow emotional healing to take place, out of control eating will continue to rage like a dragon within you.
Having Hypothyroidism, which I have, doesn’t help either. Low hormone levels (as discussed in my previous post HERE) can cause feelings of depression and anxiety. Being fully aware of what makes me ME goes a long way in combating my emotional eating. I think to myself, “No, Jordan, this is not hunger. This is a thyroid symptom or emotional issue.” My family deserves a healthy, happy wife and mom.
I constantly have to remind myself that I’m choosing to remain healed. I’m choosing to no longer be controlled by my emotions. I’m choosing to no longer hand power over to the emotional dysfunctions of my youth or even to my thyroid disease. This is not always easy, and sometimes I fail, but everything is a choice. And I do my best to choose mental, emotional and physical wellness every day!
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