This week in The Soul Sister Sessions, we’ve been talking all things eating and nutrition. Emotional eating is something that comes up for all of us at some point – its certainly something I used to struggle with a lot. In the sessions we go into great depth about eating habits, how to create great ones, and what’s stopping us from eating in the way we want to.
Emotional eating is eating when you’re not physically hungry, perhaps to calm, avoid, distract, console, or satisfy an emotional craving. Remember this: emotional craving will trigger you to want to binge eat and to eat unhealthy or ‘bad’ foods. Physical craving will only lead you towards healthy, nourishing foods – like when you come back from a holiday or the day after a big meal and you’ll only feel like eating veggies or nourishing foods. Emotional craving and emotional eating behavior can feel out of control, unconscious, and leave you riddled with guilt.
The good news is; you can stop emotional eating (and I'm speaking from personal experience!). Here are my 3 key ways to overcome emotional eating:
1. Don’t deprive yourself and enjoy your food without guilt
Deprivation will always (eventually) lead to emotional or binge eating. Essentially, all diets involve some kind of restriction and if all we’re using is willpower to stop ourselves from scoffing that packet of Tim Tams, we’re doomed to give in at some point!
The trick here is to eat with love for yourself and enjoy your indulgences without guilt by giving yourself permission to eat 'bad' foods before you eat them. This way, you actually get to enjoy the dinner your friend cooked for you, without worrying about whether it contains grains/dairy/too many calories or no. Take a moment before you start eating to commit to enjoying and savouring the meal mindfully (see below), whether you've deemed it 'healthy' or not.
Sometimes, there are foods we are intolerant to or we know don’t make us feel good so it’s best to avoid that food all together - this could certainly feel restrictive but the key is to avoid certain foods with love (and not with fear eg. of getting fat, or getting sick). For example, I don’t eat processed sugar because I know I am much more focused and balanced when I don't eat it.
Bonus tip: To avoid feelings of deprivation, make healthy versions of your favourite treats! I find that making my own raw chocolate or gluten free bread means that I don’t feel like I'm missing out.
2. Become a mindful eater
Mindful eating is one of the most powerful tools we can use to overcome emotional and binge eating. Mindful eating means eating without distractions – not TV, phone, magazines, or intense conversations at meal times. This is especially helpful for those of us who have had it drilled into us that we need to finish everything on our plates! By taking time to slowly chew each mouthful, we stop eating when we’re satisfied and as a result we’ll feel lighter and more energetic – no energy wasted on digesting overly huge meals.
Try it at your next meal – sit down and take a few deep breaths, tuning into your body. It can be helpful to rate your hunger on a scale from 1 to 10 before you eat so you’ve got an idea of how much food it’ll take to satisfy you. As you eat, pay attention to the different flavours and textures of each mouthful. Chew your food to liquid and put your knife and fork down between each mouthful and stop when you’re satisfied.
3. Feel your feelings
Allow time and devote practices to getting in touch with your emotions every day – try journaling or mentally running through your day during a walk, bath or some quiet time in the evening. If we are processing our emotions productively, we’re unlikely to resort to using food to distract us from or suppress our feelings.
Practice observing the physical sensations in your body as emotions move though you without judgment and without attaching stories or creating dialogue (which is usually blaming someone) in your mind.
To get clear on what your triggers are, answer to following two journal prompts:
1. When I eat when I am not hungry, it’s usually because I am feeling...
2. Instead, I could deal with this feeling by...
Now you have a list of things that you can do instead of eating – pop a copy on your phone and look over it whenever you feel an urge to emotionally eat or when you feel a binge about to happen. Anything from going for a walk, looking at Pinterest, doing a drawing, calling a friend, writing in your journal, doing a few yoga poses, or pulling some angel cards can help you get out of your unconscious binge mindset and back in touch with how you want to act and whether you’re actually hungry or just wanting to use food to deal with an emotion.
I hope you find these tips helpful and if you’re struggling with emotional eating, know that you’re not alone! If you’d like to chat with me about getting your eating habits sorted once and for all, I offer free 30 minute sessions via Skype – you can sign up here.