Three Strategies for Avoiding Emotional Eating
Perhaps you’re familiar with one of these scenarios: you walk into the house after a long and frustrating day at work, you leave your boss’s office after a stressful meeting, or you come downstairs after a challenging episode of getting the kids to bed. You’re frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, tired, stressed, lonely, bored, or some combination thereof. You walk into the kitchen or break room and remember the cookies (or cake, or chips, or other comforting foods) that are there. You think to yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that,” but a force that feels almost beyond your control leads you to the object of temptation. You begin to eat, and almost instantly feel soothed and relieved- but also guilty.
You proceed to tell yourself to stop eating, several times, but continue anyway. Soon you’ve consumed a great deal of food, and feelings of shame and self-loathing set in. Questions like, “Why did I do that?” and “Don’t I have any will-power?” fill your mind. You promise yourself that tomorrow will be a better day and that you will eat in a healthy way from dusk to dawn……but unfortunately you find yourself in this position time and again. How do you avoid these emotional eating binges and the shame that accompanies them? Here are some quick, mindful strategies to help you do just that:
- Address the emotion that is driving the binge: Before opening the candy-stash drawer, take just one minute and simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and notice what you’re feeling. Let your feeling(s) wash over you completely. Next, do whatever you need to address those feelings: lie down and rest, cry, vent your anger (by talking to a loved one, journaling, or exercising), or do a #meditation or #relaxation exercise to calm your body and mind. Most eating binges can be successfully thwarted by simply resting, crying, venting, or meditating! Once you have addressed the emotion that is driving the binge, you’re much better able to listen to your body and feed it what it truly needs, when it truly needs it.
- Change your environment: Emotional eating is often triggered by something or someone in your immediate environment (e.g., the stress of work, the loneliness of being home by yourself, the tension that you feel with a roommate). Therefore, it is often helpful to notice such environmental triggers and change your environment the minute you feel compelled to overeat. Take a walk, visit someone, go for a quick drive, move to a different part of your home, or simply go outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery. By removing yourself from the environmental trigger that is driving the binge, you’re both caring for your emotional needs and putting yourself in a better position to make healthy food-related choices.
- Preemptively create a list of things to do when you’re bored: When I ask my patients what they were feeling prior to an eating binge, I frequently hear, “I was just bored!” If you too have a tendency to overeat when you’re bored, I encourage you to preemptively create a list of meaningful, authentic, enjoyable activities to engage in when boredom sets in. Some activities that have made my patients’ lists are: research travel destinations, look though old photo albums, write a snail-mail letter to a loved one, organize photos, call a loved one, do a craft, read something you’ve wanted to read for a long time, watch a movie, try a new exercise or dance DVD, watch music videos on YouTube, do a yoga practice, plant flowers, create some art, take a walk in nature, or do a meditation or conscious relaxation exercise (my meditation and relaxation exercises can be found here). I encourage you to make such a list and have it readily available when the “bored munchies” (as one of my patients calls it) set in.
I sincerely hope that with these strategies, you will eliminate emotional eating and become more aware of, and attentive to, your emotional needs.