Understanding Emotional Eating

It’s 9:30 at night and you are for some reason, in the pantry studying the options, deciding what your poison will be. Cookies? Chips? Maybe the freezer is your thing… there are several varieties  of ice cream begging for attention.

You aren’t really hungry. Your stomach is quiet and you don’t have the physical signs of actually needing to eat food.

But there’s this driving urge in you….

And here you are… stalking the goods… out of what? Boredom? Loneliness? Anger? Hurt? Happy the day is over? Frustration? Hard day at work? Worry? Maybe you don’t even know.

Whatever the reason, it’s emotionally driven. You may be aware of it, or you may feel powerless against it. It may come on like a compelling urge and you act purely instinctively on it without pausing to think of what you are doing.

Many times, it may be completely mindless. Eating as you feed your mind food for your emotional needs.

Emotional eating is only a problem when it becomes a persons central response to  regulating their mood. It is a coping strategy.

What is emotional eating, exactly?

Stress eating. using food to make yourself feel better, eating to satisfy emotional needs rather than physical hunger.

Occasional eating for reasons other than hunger isn’t bad. Some degrees of emotional eating is normal. Food is typically the focus on holidays, celebrations, life events, funerals, weddings, etc.

However, if it is your “go to” , your primary coping mechanism, then there’s a problem.

You are in an unhealthy cycle where the real problem isn’t being addressed.

~ Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food.

~ Feels good in the moment but then you are left with guilt of eating whatever is bugging you.

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Identifying… are you an emotional eater?

Do you eat more when stressed?

Do you eat when you aren’t hungry or are full?

Do you eat to feel better? ( calm or soothe yourself)

Do you reward with food?

Do you regularly eat till you are stuffed?

Does food make you feel safe or like it’s a friend?

Do you feel powerless or out of control with it ?

Emotional eating craves specific comfort/ junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush.

Mindless eating is not satisfied when full. Emotional hunger is not in the stomach. This also leads to negative feelings ( guilt, shame, regret) eating what you feel you shouldn’t have.

Food self soothes. Emotional eating is an attempt to manage moods with food.

Identifying triggers

it’s helpful to assess yourself and understand what can set you off. Situations, places, feelings, etc can cause you to reach for food.

Triggers wont always be negative but can be triggered by positive emotions too ( a reward for a goal, birthdays)

I mean really, who is ever actually hungry for birthday cake or some Christmas cookies? We eat it because it’s enjoyable and we are celebrating.

Common causes of emotional eating

Stress, stuffing emotions, boredom, loneliness, feelings of emptiness, social influences or even ingrained childhood habits can lead to overeating.  It’s important to find other ways to feed your feelings, alternate behaviors that have nothing to do with food.

If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t revolve around food you won’t be able to control your eating habits for long. Diets often fail because they offer logical nutrition advice – IF- you have conscious control over your eating habits.

They don’t/won’t work when emotions take over demanding a swift payoff of comfort foods. To stop emotionally eating you must learn new ways to fulfill yourself emotionally.

Understanding the cycle and triggers is a huge first step. You need to learn alternates to turn to and not food.

How to help yourself

Pause. Think. Reflect = different decision.

Can you wait?

While you wait…check in with how your feeling… what’s your emotional status?

Are you truly hungry? as in experiencing natural signals of hunger? Or is it your mind/emotions talking?

You’ve attempted resistance in the past with the belief that your willpower isn’t enough.

The truth is you have more power over your cravings than you believe.

Really.

By checking in with yourself, pausing, examining what it is you’re feeling you are more likely to make a different choice than just eating whatever you have in mind.

Learn to accept good and bad feelings. The root of emotional eating is feeling powerless over your emotions. You can’t deal with them so you avoid feelings with food.

Become a more mindful eater.

Mindful eating is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits and your food.

Think about the foods you buy. Do you buy healthy foods? Do you buy trigger foods that will contribute to times of emotional eating? Think of what foods will nourish you.

Come to the table hungry. Not ravenous, but with your body giving you it’s natural signals it needs to eat.

Start with small amounts. I’m always amazed, really, at the small amount of food it takes to feed myself and deal with my hunger.

Learn to really appreciate your food. I make jokes to hubby about how amazing food tastes when I’m seriously hungry ( like after long workouts and I’m finally ready for food) not only does it taste awesome, it feels good going in ’cause I am really hungry. I have an appreciation for food with true hunger.

How it tastes and the satisfaction are so different than eating when you aren’t really hungry.

Bring all your senses with you to the table. Learn to smell, savor, and visually appreciate what you are eating.

Take small bites, chew well, and learn to eat slowly.  Doing so will let you really taste and enjoy your meal while allowing your stomach to register that it has had enough food.

Becoming a mindful eater also means staying connected with your feelings and how it impacts your choices in your day with food. It’s practice but with practice you can become more mindful of reasons why you eat when you aren’t hungry or feel like you’re emotions are driving you.

Some reflective thoughts….

I’ve shared several times in blogs my own awareness of coming out of a family of emotional eaters. I’ve talked about learning about myself and being mindful of it in my own life. Understanding that definitely helped me on my weight loss journey.

Sometimes I make very mindful choices that I want something, knowing full well, I don’t need it. Hubby wandered into the kitchen one night to find me perched on the counter top with a bag of chips, munching away.

I told him “I am fully cognizant I’m emotionally eating these right now” and the fact was, there had been some thing or another that had made me feel angst and I just wanted those stupid chips.

The thing about knowing and understanding it’s what I was doing? I ate some, reined myself in, and put them away.

I was mindful of my actions.

You might need time to get there. Maybe you’re at a point where somehow the bag disappears on you. Or maybe more cookies than you intended. Or a whole lotta ice cream vanishes. Or whatever your brand of poison is.

It might require work and effort on your part. It might be times of failure and times of success. The more you mentally engage with it, the closer you will get to not feeding your emotions.

This is such a big topic, you might find more on it in the future here. I think many struggle with it and it prevents the success they long for with weight loss. Gaining insight and understanding can help lead to success.

Do you have thoughts on this?

Have you struggled with emotional eating? Did you find ways to change it?  Do you struggle now? What has made you aware of it?

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The Dangerous Game Of Off Limits Foods

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Just let the quote I have posted breathe over you for a few minutes. Think about it.  Can you relate on some level whether it’s now or at some point on your health journey ? It resonated deeply with me the first time I read it.

It’s a thought that permeates our society right now. An out of control, crazy way of thinking.

And it’s designed to have failure as the ultimate outcome.

“Good foods/bad foods”, ” Eliminate food groups”, “Sugar is like cocaine”, “Carbs are bad”. “Fat is bad”…..

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Every single one of those thoughts can potentially set you up for failure when it comes to eating and nourishing your body.  Setting up negative thoughts is exactly why so many people struggle with their relationship with food.

You may not like to think of it that way, but you do. We all do.

Those relationships can look really different for all of us.

Food can represent a power struggle in both directions. To one extreme it can result in eating disorders like anorexia… withholding food.

It can go the other direction which is bulimia, a complete out of control power with food.

It can also be the act of just over eating. Eating more than our bodies need for nourishment and health which leads to being overweight. Eating to feed a deeper need than physical hunger…  like emotional eating.

Our relationship with food can become rigid where everything is monitored that is taken in. Food becomes a task master to keep after and keep under a tight rein. It’s thought of constantly.

Or we may be fortunate to have developed a healthy relationship with it naturally on our own, or through our own health journey and arriving there through life experiences.

When we begin to set foods apart, good or bad,  putting them in an off limits category, and tell ourselves we can’t have them or that they are bad we start to give food a lot more power than it needs to have.

A part of learning and building new habits is to keep food in a “neutral zone”.

Food is food.

Don’t demonize it or put yourself on some restrictive way of living so all you do is think of those “forbidden” foods.

Do you see the danger of giving certain foods so much power in your life ? It’s designed to keep you from being successful.

Why?

You restrict foods, take them away, label them as bad, or you decide food group “x” isn’t something you are going to eat anymore ’cause that’s the current hyped up trend going on ( not that you have any health issues dictating it) but you’re participating in it.

You really love those foods and will miss them … where do you think your mind will be ?

Exactly.

Smack on the things you’ve set up as “off limits” which will only continue to warp your relationship with food and it’s a dangerous process.

I guess I fall in the camp of figuring out my relationship with food on my journey of health and fitness.

I shared in another blog that I grew up in a family of emotional eaters. I was one too and figured it out as I grew in my understanding of my relationship with food. I’d say I largely have it under control, although there are moments I am aware I’m eating for a reason other than hunger.

I tried many “diets” through my life. Ultimately, all I could wait for was for it to be over and get back to “normal”. ( I see you nodding your head. You know what I mean). Good times.

I’d say THE single biggest factor in my success ( I’m 8 years out now so I think I can address this)

I put nothing “off limits”.  Nothing.

You know what that did? It took all power out of anything that may have been forbidden.

I know what you’re thinking…. “Oh, then you probably just went off the wagon all the time”

No. I didn’t. I’m a big girl and certainly have the ability to control what I stuff in my mouth. But it did keep me from over thinking on food.

If my family went to get a burger ( which was an occasional treat) I wanted to enjoy it with them and not sit there forlornly eating a tub of pale iceberg lettuce with two tomatoes in it.

You might think that would send me off the deep end. Like… throw in the towel. Not at all. I continued my commitment to what I was doing. My daily focus on food was to eat well, eat moderate, and allow some treats to be factored in on my weight loss journey.

Now hear me. Although I don’t like to label foods, we can agree that there are some that aren’t the best for our health goals or the best to eat on a frequent basis. I kept that in mind too.

Fried/processed foods, drive thru meals, sugar, alcohol, simple carbs like cookies, cake, chips, candy, sodas, sugar drinks etc. can be tasty treats but must be handled with moderation.

I wasn’t to crazy at all about the idea of giving up chocolate to lose weight! I learned that a small amount, savored, often was enough to satisfy me. I didn’t need to just keep consuming it because it was there.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The most successful people I know have done it with a non-restrictive balance in their lives.

Do I have trigger foods?

You bet I do. I know that it’s just not a smart move to bring home any type of kettle potato chip unless I’ve got people there eating them with me. 😛

It’s been a learning process.

Learning to trust myself with food. I don’t have to eat it because it’s there or have a “last supper” mentality and consume it all because I may never get it again.

Learning to listen to my body and it’s natural signals.

Learning to not be horribly restrictive to prevent the caving in and eating whatever because I felt deprived.

Learning to make better choices that supported my overall health and fitness goals.

I have learned….

to know my body and what makes me feel good and energetic.

I feel better eating lots of veggies and fruit. I have learned some foods just make me feel more sluggish or bloated and I’d rather pass on them. Lean meats, veggies, and good whole grain carbs keep me energetic and decently lean.

Those foods that used to have a pull on me don’t so much anymore. Healthy eating is natural and comfortable to me now.

I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Some days just might not be that great and it’s ok if I get up and keep going. The “not so great days” though have become less and less as this has become my lifestyle and I’ve built permanent habits.

Forward, slow, steady progress is the best kind of progress. It lasts.

I’ve learned a lot about nutrition. I eat adequate, good food to nourish my body three times a day and I don’t really think about food much anymore… except when my tummy is yelling at me 😉

I’ve learned life is a beautiful journey and it will have birthdays, and holidays and celebrations and food is a big part of those things. Finding balance and being able to enjoy those times is one of the best things about not having “off limits” foods. I have learned I can have my treats and it doesn’t undo all of my hard work. The best part? Not having that self-imposed “guilt” that used to come with it.

I don’t know where you are on your journey of health and fitness. If you struggle with food and are trying to understand your relationship with it, I hope that you at least begin to not cast foods into off limits groups. I hope you give yourself the freedom to eat well, to learn about yourself in the journey, and that you will find perfect balance in your personal relationship with food.

In summary

Know your relationship with food.

Don’t categorize food. Food, is simply, food.

Learn to know your body and listen to it.

Nourish it with healthy foods the majority of time and allow occasional treats.

Trust yourself.

Don’t practice a restrictive lifestyle.

Walk the road you are on. Slow and steady will last a lifetime.

Don’t quit.

Where are you on your journey? Do you feel like you have balance in your relationship with food? Have you set foods up as good or bad and then changed your thinking ? How did that help you?

 

 

 

Diets And Your Relationship With Food

Oh boy. Here we go.

New Year and the diet industry is gearing up to guilt you into needing their products. You are being bombarded with all the reasons you need to get on their wagon.

Oprah now basically owns Weight Watchers and her commercials have been going like crazy. Her mantra is to make “2016 the year of your best body”.

I’m certainly not against that mantra… I mean… I want to be better this year than last year. I’m down for another year of my best body.

I can still be stronger, leaner, more fit. I just don’t plan to go about it with all the hype and diet products to achieve it.

Coming up this  week is a new TV show called “My Diet Is Better Than Your Diet”. I’m wondering if it will be the awful train wreck that “The Biggest Loser” is which also had it’s season premier this week.

I just have to wonder why it’s still around. I read a story on it the other day that the contestants workout 6-8 hours a day on about 1,000 calories or less.  A gerbil eats more.

I’d say all of that is insane but I don’t even know it that’s the best word to describe it. People will tune in and watch as a form of “entertainment” forgetting these are hurting, desperate and needy people who have been brought to this point. They have vast amounts of weight to lose.

The fail rate (that they don’t tell you about) is tremendously high.

Why? Because there haven’t been key important changes made.

Namely this… and it’s true for those on a reality TV show, or you my readers, and true of myself before I figured it out a few years ago.

There is this missing piece… and it’s crucial for permanent, life changing success.

If you don’t get your relationship with food right, and in the right place in your life, you will forever battle it. It will control you.

If food is more important to you than losing weight to be healthy and energetic then it’s time to look at it’s role in your life.

I firmly believe that food is not the biggest issue as is the reasons behind what drives someone to eat beyond what they need to support their lives and feed their hunger.

Sometimes ( and often) there are hungers and needs deeper than our appetites.

Loneliness. Boredom. Pain. Feelings of failure. Loss. Need. Lack of love. Acceptance. Routine. Emotional needs.

Mindless, empty eating, we use to try and fill aches, pains, and other issues in our lives.

It’s why I don’t think these shows will ever really work. It’s why I’m troubled over the “quick fix” surgeries that can rapidly drop pounds, but it’s not addressing the real reasons a person eats so much food to be in that place to start with.  If that person doesn’t make a mental shift and get food in it’s proper place, they will continue with the same behaviors and attitudes that made them fat.

The underlying issues need to be recognized to turn it around, to make food be what it is, enjoyable, life giving, but also controlled and managed appropriately. Food is much of a dangerous  drug for someone as cocaine is to another.

This is why 6-8 week diet plans will fail. And good intentions will go down the drain and you’ll console yourself with food again. It’s why patients who have weight loss surgery will regain weight they lost and be able to eat as much later on after surgery as before.

Years ago I figured out some of my triggers. I realized I had grown up in a family of emotional eaters. It was weird how I clearly saw it one day and called it for what it was in my life.

It wasn’t overly controlling for me ? But in my mom and grandmother it was very easy to see. They were both considered morbidly obese. I could look back at times and see how food was used for more than nourishment. It was often used as a form of comfort. The more you ate, the better you would feel, right ?

My brother had struggled with it too.

Now I am able to identify it in myself when I see it going on. Only now I ask myself questions and question why I’m eating? Why am I doing what I’m doing? How am I feeling ? What emotions are propelling me to go to food ?

Trust me… this was a huge step in my health and fitness journey.

So yeah. Let’s make 2016 “the year of our best body” but let’s decide first to get real with some things in ourselves that hinder us from moving forward to that goal.

If I offer any humble suggestions to you in this it would be….

*Pay attention to why and when you eat ( beyond meal time)

*Question yourself. Really, you can. Ask those hard questions. What is making you eat at that moment? Are you truly hungry? How are you feeling?

*Look at your family. Your childhood one and the one you have as a grown adult ( married etc) what are the eating patterns and habits? How is food used ? For more than nourishment?

*Do you eat when you are out by yourself ? In the car? Drive thru’s? Is it a habit ?

*Do you eat alone at night? In front of Tv? How much “mindless” eating do you participate in?

*What hurts you inside?  Do you use food to soothe your emotions ?

This is a place you can start. Understanding your relationship with food and taking a hard look at things like this can really help you move forward in your health journey…mentally and physically =)