The challenge of emotional eating
When we talk to clients about their habits around food and fuelings, the conversation often leads to the challenge of emotional eating. Many of us have learned over the years to associate food with comfort. If we are sad, we give ourselves a treat. If we are stressed, we give ourselves a treat. If we are celebrating a life event, we give ourselves a treat.
If you are one of these individuals, it’s not your fault. Our culture encourages these coping strategies. We learn them when we are young from the adults in our lives, and then decades of advertising and marketing enforce the relationship between emotions and food.
Don’t be hard on yourself if emotional eating is a challenge for you. We can’t change the past, but we can build you a new future.
This is a deep topic, so what we cover here is simply a starting point. Any one of the suggestions I make in this article could be the subject of a full book. If you want to learn more, reach out to your coach for advice and support.
Tips to turn the tide on emotional eating
If you struggle with emotional eating, here are some ideas for turning the tide:
- Address the source. There are a variety of ways to conquer cravings in the moment, but the most impactful change we can make for ourselves is to identify the core cause of our desire to emotional eat. For example, if your commute is hectic and stressful, you could look at going into work at a different time, you could work from home a few days a week, or you could think about a new job altogether.
- Cut sugar completely. Sugar addiction is real, and some of us—even at our best—quickly spiral into a binging frenzy when we eat sugar. While it is possible to enjoy sweets in moderation, if you suspect you have a sugar addiction, stay away from these foods, especially when you are feeling upset.
- Swap the reward or coping mechanism. If we look to food to relieve stress, we can arrive at the same result (alleviating the emotion) with a different approach. Instead of reaching for candy, go for a walk or meditate for a few minutes. It will take practice, but you can achieve the same relief with a much healthier activity.
- Drink a glass of water. We can often beat a craving, emotionally-driven or otherwise, with a cold glass of water. The fluid helps to reduce the feeling of hunger, and the pause it gives us can help to slow down the momentum of the moment, creating a window for us to evaluate what really matters.
- Stop. Challenge. Choose. This is a classic strategy in the Habits of Health System, and it has been the catalyst for thousands of people. Put simply, if you see a trigger for an unhealthy choice, stop. Challenge yourself to make a choice that aligns with your real goals, and then make that choice. We have a full free ebook on this process. Download it here.
- Talk to an expert. If you feel like you have no control over your emotional eating response, your coach is a good place to start. At the same time, though, intense emotional challenges can be incredibly serious. If you ever feel this way, you should talk to your physician and consider talking with a counselor who can help you understand and address what you’re feeling.
Our emotions can be tied to a complex web of learned behaviors, external stimuli, and cultural pressures. No one conquers emotional eating overnight, so as you start to implement these strategies in your own life, look for small steps forward. New habits take practice, and learning about your new potential can take time.
Our community is here if you need help along the way.