Emotional eaters - how do you change that?

Emotional eaters often start the habitual pattern of turning to food for comfort, solace and to stuff down pain over something that happened in their history and long after the incident has passed, the emotional eating trigger remains. While once it was functional - it now has them trapped.

Many times our eating for emotional reasons became a conditioned response when we weren't allowed to feel our emotions - it was unacceptable to be angry (for example).  Now when we're hungry, we immediately become 'Hangry.' 


How do emotional eaters break the habit?

I'd rather try to eat my problems away than resorting to alcohol or drugs, self-mutilation or even suicide. Treat your emotional eating as a language trying to tell you something. Be a detective..what are your emotional triggers?  Make some notes for yourself: 

1. What are your comfort eating triggers? You'll start to see patterns emerging. 

  • When does it happen?  
  • Whose around when it happens?  
  • What were you doing immediately before you found yourself standing in front the fridge or cupboard?
  • What kind of food are you reaching for - does it come with a memory
  • What do you tell yourself as you're eating and after you're done?

The worst part of comfort eating is the way we beat ourselves up. Given the way our molecules of emotion affect our biochemistry its probaby way more health-eroding than the comfort eating itself. 

• Take note what and when you eat as well as what stressors (people, places, circumstances), thoughts and emotions you're eating for.  

• Are you waiting too long to eat, resulting in low blood sugar?  How do you know what is true hunger?  Intuitive eating would be really helpful for you.

• Is there a particular time of day that you always feel like snacking? Why?  For example, if you live on your own and as soon as you walk through your front door your find yourself heading to the food cupboard - could it be because you're lonely?



2. Learn to tell the difference between physical and emotional hungers. 

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Centre emotional hunger comes on suddenly, physical hunger occurs gradually.

• When you are eating to fill an emotional void you crave a specific food such as pizza or ice cream and only that food will meet your need. But eating for physiological hunger leaves you more open to various food options. 

• Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave, unless you've left your physical hunger for too long, it doesn't feel that same urgent or frenetic intensity about it.

• Emotional eating is usually automatic or mindless eating 



Tips for Emotional Eaters

  • Never under-eat or skip over your hunger. Eat whenever you're hungry and make sure you're giving your body sufficient food.  Any diet where you are restricting yourself creates negative emotions and will turn into a binge - period!
  • Try to include protein, fat and carbohydrate at each meal and snack through the day.
  • Avoid very low kilojoule/ calorie diets or diets that are restrictive or depriving, any diet that tells you to cut out food groups is one to be avoided at all costs. 
  • Taking a note helps you identify your eating patterns. For example you may experience sugar cravings every afternoon at 3pm. This could mean that you may need to eat an appropriate snack at this time or it could mean that what you had for lunch as not sufficient for your body. It could also indicate a high stress time where a quick break might be needed.
  • Include whole grain carbohydrates with each meal. The fibre content of these foods helps to keep blood sugar levels stable to avoid any blood sugar drops which can led to food cravings. 
  • When a food craving hits first try to distract yourself. Phone a friend, have a cup of tea or coffee, take a walk, clean out a cupboard etc... 
  • The challenge is for emotional eaters to raise their serotonin levels in non-food related ways. For women - sharing problems with a friend, holding hands or any feeling of connection can accomplish that.

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