Eating is emotional, period.
It’s normal and healthy to enjoy good food, especially when we’re enjoying it in good company.
But, there’s a difference between healthy emotions related to food and allowing emotions to drive our decisions about when, what, and how much to eat.
I’ve lived in both camps, and I’m here to tell you, it IS possible to conquer emotional eating!
5 Steps to Conquer Emotional Eating
1. Know Your Emotional Eating Triggers
To gain freedom in this area, it’s important to identify the specific triggers that lead to emotional eating.
Based on my personal and clinical experience, here are three of the most common categories of triggers:
- External Stress (positive or negative) – Examples include family problems, financial strain, or a special achievement.
- Negative Self Talk – Examples include bashing oneself for mistakes or obsessing over physical inadequacies. For some people, this may stem from low self esteem, childhood experiences, or trauma.
- Boredom – Boredom and its cousin, procrastination, account for a lot of emotional overeating.
- Poor Blood Sugar Control – Going too long between meals, a diet too high or too low in carbohydrates, or just not eating enough food in general can all trigger low blood sugar and make someone more prone to cravings (usually for carb-rich comfort foods) and emotional eating.
2. Journal Emotions Before and After Eating
This was extremely helpful for me years ago, and it has helped so many of my clients who struggle in this area. Take a minute journal to the physical feelings and the emotions that precede and follow emotional eating.
This can help identify the feelings that accompany triggers (e.g., hunger, lightheadedness, frustration, boredom, etc.) and the as well as the emotions you experience as you “come down” from an emotional or binge eating episode (e.g., fear, anger, guilt, etc.). This can be done in a notes app on your phone or using a small notebook and pen that fit easily into a purse so journaling can be done anytime and anywhere.
Set aside some time each week to reflect back on the themes you see repeated in your journal to help you identify your personal emotional eating patterns.
3. Identify Truths to Keep Emotions in Check
When surging emotions cloud your judgement, it’s vital to allow objective truth to guide your behavior.
- Emotion: I am so stressed out! What if I…(fail this test, can’t give this client what they need, ruin my kids, am embarrassed in front of that person, etc.)
- Truth: Eating will not fix this problem. The hunger isn’t physical – it’s… (emotional, psychological, etc.). I need to focus on what’s true – I probably won’t fail the test but, if I do, it doesn’t mean that I am a failure. I’ll never meet every need of every client and that’s okay – there’s a lot I can do to help each of them. You get the idea…
Once I identified truth statements, I realized the root issue of my emotional eating was less about food and more about my insecurities about my identity. This helped me focus my efforts on changing my thoughts at that deeper root level, rather than just banging my head against the wall trying to get the symptoms (emotional eating) under control.
4. Develop a Redirect Strategy
A redirect strategy provides tangible steps to stop you from eating in response to an emotional need, and to redirect those feelings in a more appropriate way. In my experience, the most successful strategies include these two things:
- Physical Interrupters – These are the “first responders” to physically remove you from a situation when you sense a surge of emotions that could trigger overeating. Examples include going outside, calling a friend, taking a bath, or painting your nails.
- Truthful Affirmations – Write down a few objectively true statements that confront the lies you tell yourself. These may be about food itself, or about your personal identity. (“Food won’t make me feel better – in fact, I usually feel guilty when I turn to food for comfort.” “I am loved and accepted, regardless of how I perform.”) It’s my personal belief that God alone can meet our deepest emotional needs and I found scripture verses to be one of the most powerful sources of truthful affirmations in my battle against emotional eating.
5. Enlist Accountability
Emotional eating is often a secretive and guilt-ridden battle. Having at least one person in whom you can confide and ask for help is hugely important.
This should be someone you can trust not to shame you, but who is also not afraid to speak truth to you in love when needed.
I’m so honored to serve some of my clients in this way, and it is so exciting to see them begin to overcome a years-long struggle with negative self talk and cyclical emotional eating behaviors because of our work together!
You Got This!
If you struggle with emotional eating, I want to leave you with one final word of encouragement from someone who’s been there.
It IS possible to conquer emotional eating.
There was a time when I never thought I could be free from emotional and binge eating. For me, it took years to heal from my eating strongholds. But with lots of hard work, support from friends and family, and with God’s help, I can honestly say I no longer struggle in this area!
Get help from a trusted expert whose been there
I’ve been there, I’ve overcome emotional eating, and I’ve counselled countless women to do the same. And I’d love to help you too! We’ll work together to create a personalized plan that gets you lasting results, and I’ll be right there to guide you every step of the way!