We OFTEN hear from our clients when they start, or as their journey progresses “I’m an emotional eater.” I tend to get the giggles a little sometimes when I read that because, unless you have a true diagnosis, saying you’re an emotional eater is kind of like saying you’re a tired sleeper. Culturally, most of our life changes and emotions are celebrated or consoled with food. It’s your birthday: have dinner and cake. It’s a funeral: gather afterwards for dinner and cake. You got a promotion: champagne and chocolates! You went through a breakup: wine and ice cream. We do it on a micro level too. Great day at work: let’s go out to celebrate. Rough day at work: I need a drink and am just going to order pizza. We eat based on our emotions SO MUCH OF THE TIME. But I get what my clients are saying! We feel all sorts of different emotions and the urge to eat because of them can seem overwhelming and all powerful.
We at Stay Fit Mom are NOT therapists or counselors or psychiatrists. And there are some of you who would GREATLY benefit from seeing one of these, especially in regards to using food as a coping mechanism for your emotions. So remember as I share these things, that this is not medical advice, just hopefully useful information, and if you think you have a serious problem and it’s affecting your life, find help! It could make all the difference! But if you just want some tips on how to avoid using an entire bag of Doritos to deal with the stress of kids screaming constantly- I got you!
Here are some really practical tips for dealing with “emotional eating.”
- Know Your triggers. Just naming what it is that drives you to food and calling it what it is, is HUGE. Saying out loud “I’m having a down day and now xyz has happened and I want to eat everything in sight” can be powerful. Even write it down. “This is how I’m feeling. This is what I WANT to do with those feelings.” Sometimes just acknowledging what it is that has caused these desires to eat and focusing for a moment on the issue, is enough to help. And KNOWING that talking to your overbearing mother on the drive home from after school activities while kids are whining in the backseat drives you to want take out, can help AVOID those situations.
- Don’t keep it to yourself! Bring someone else in. It may really help to tell your partner or call a friend. Tell them, “I’m really anxious about what’s coming up and I want to eat until that feeling dims.” Chances are, because they care about you, they’ll want to hear you talk about it, and not only does this keep you from eating, it can help the ACTUAL issue. Both a distraction and a solution.
- Distract. This is NOT a weird diet culture thing. If you are ACTUALLY HUNGRY- that’s different. We’re not asking you to try to subvert your hunger or hunger cues. But if it’s truly emotional eating, you can try to distract yourself. Drink a glass of water. My friend who is a therapist reminds me all the time that being even slightly dehydrated can exacerbate depression symptoms. Drink a cup of hot tea. It’s soothing and calming. Go for a walk! My favorite distraction! Even just ten minutes. You’ll be a totally different place when you get back. Start an easy or mindless project like a load of laundry. When I start to feel the urge to emotional eat, I go upstairs to my bed, close the door put on an audio book and play games on my phone- ALLLLLL the distractions.
- Think long term. The pleasure you get from eating in that moment lasts THREE MINUTES. That’s it. And then any low feelings are compounded by what you’ve just done. Remind yourself that eating in that moment won’t actually change ANYTHING. And go back to the source, write it down, talk it out and figure out something that MIGHT actually change the root problem.
- Have low calorie snacks on hand so you CAN munch on something and not throw your entire day away. Baby carrots, protein chips, berries etc. Or as a VERY last resort- if you’ve started and there’s no stopping the eating, limit yourself to ONE thing. If you start with chips, don’t add in cookies and beer and then door dash taco bell. Eat the chips until you’re satisfied or can stop. Keeping yourself to one thing can help in the end.
We tell our 9 year old all the time- you are in charge of the way you respond to your emotions. You’re going to have hard days. And great ones! We don’t have to cope with them all with food!