Using food to cope with life is often learned early in childhood. You’re given a cookie when you fall off your bike or you enjoy family time around the dinner table.
When you grow up, you keep those behaviors. When something goes wrong, you continue to go to food. If you want to create a memorable event, it likely is associated with a meal of some sort.
Not only does eating to soothe thoughts or create memorable celebrations feel good emotionally, but it feels good physically as well. When you eat an abundance of fat and carbs, your body releases endorphins which make you feel good. It’s one way that biology does not serve us well.
Negative Consequences of Emotional Eating
Even though eating a food or two that are bad for you when you’re feeling down or anxious isn’t life threatening, it can easily become that way if it’s a pattern you sustain over time. As your weight goes up so does your chances of developing some sort of major health condition such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Also, when you continue to eat out of emotion, you’ll never be able to resolve your weight issue. You’re essentially putting a bandage (food) over something that’s bothering you (the real reason you eat) so you don’t have to look at it when you should focus on doing what is necessary to get it to heal properly (do something that actually resolves the issue).
Ending the Cycle
With a little strength and determination, you can close the door on emotional eating. Next time you’re tempted to eat out of emotion versus physical need, try taking these steps:
Step #1: Decipher your triggers
When you find yourself about to eat, try to decipher what emotion has triggered you to want to take that action. Did something just happen or were you thinking about something distressing?
The most important part of this step is to do it prior to allowing yourself to eat. If you wait until after you’ve satisfied your urge, it will be more difficult to figure out what it was.
Step #2: Give your emotion a name
Now that you know what sent you to the kitchen, you have to understand why. Specifically, what emotion did you feel the urge to soothe or distract yourself from?
If you’ve been eating emotionally for quite some time then you may find this particular step hard to do. You’re probably pretty effective at pushing your emotions down.
But, with time, insight and continued effort, you’ll be able to pinpoint one or two feelings that are at the heart of your eating. You may find that it is sadness, disappointment, anxiety or boredom that get you every time.
Step #3: Create a plan
Now that you’ve figured out what feeling is causing you discomfort, you can create a plan to deal with it. For instance, if you know that anxiety makes you want to eat, then come up with a list of things you can do when you’re feeling anxious. Maybe you’ll decide to go for a walk or write in a journal instead.
Sometimes when you’re sad or depressed it’s best to talk to a professional. They can give you ideas on what helps or even prescribe medications if necessary. It’s okay to ask for help if you need it. It’s actually a sign of strength not weakness to admit when something is over your head.
If you truly want to combat emotional eating once and for all, you have to develop a way to deal with life that doesn’t involve food. Think about it, the only thing that food can resolve is true physical hunger.
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