I’ve found that a lot people will hear the term “emotional eating” and think it does not apply to them, when in reality we have all been there. Emotional eating is turning to food when you are not physically hungry, but you are bored, anxious, tired, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, nervous….the list could go on and on.
Some people call it “feeding your feelings”. For example, you feel depressed about an argument you just had with your significant other and open a box of cookies intending to having two but end up having a lot more because you are upset. Most of the time emotional eating can be hard to track because you’re not consciously programmed to think ” Okay I’m depressed so now I’m going to eat this entire box of cookies to feel better”. Most people report they don’t know how it happens. They just open a box of cookies and next thing they know they’ve had more food than they intended and now feel guilty. They don’t even realize they were feeling depressed before they ate the cookie.
It can become a vicious cycle that can lead to many other things such as an eating disorders, health issues and feeling guilt and shame. It could also lead to food-anxiety or feeling more depressed. The more your brain turns to something to “feel better” the harder it is to break away from that pattern. However, the good news is that it IS possible to stop the cycle.
So many people have found healing from turning to food as emotional support. So how do you stop this cycle? What do you do?
The only way to stop the cycle of emotional eating is to feel your feelings instead of eating them. It’s a simple answer but it requires A LOT of work. Our society is programmed to be so fast paced and not present that it’s very easy to not be self-aware of how you are actually feeling. So when depression peaks it’s ugly head you feel that you don’t have time to deal with it and go for the quick fix, cookies. So you eat and then start criticizing yourself and shaming yourself for eating. By this time you’re not focused at all on why you started eating in the first place and promise yourself you’ll have more “willpower” from now on (PS. willpower has nothing to do with it!)
Here’s a simple technique you can incorporate today:
Schedule mindfulness moments throughout the day. Set an alarm for 2 times during the day where you normally feel overwhelmed or anxious. When those alarms go off take 2 minutes to check in with you. Go to the bathroom if you’re at work, or sit in your car. Take a few deep belly breaths and see if you are feeling any tension anywhere in your body. Where are your thoughts? Your emotions? What’s caused you to feel out of sorts so far? Use this time to journal or just note what’s going on in your mind and body. By doing this you are training yourself to be more in tune and present(aka mindful) which will help tremendously on your road to recovery and healing! You can check in with yourself next time you are feeling upset and reach for that emotionally, delicious food. Am I actually hungry? Or am I just upset? Leave the kitchen, go for a walk, and take a deep breathe. Feel the feelings instead of feeding them.
Lastly, watch what you say to yourself after you eat. Don’t beat yourself upset. Watch your self-talk. As always, I suggest seeking out help from a professional to help guide you along your journey. Find a therapist in your area who specializes in treating eating issues. There are so many techniques and coping skills you can use to live a happier, healthier life!
Danielle Swimm, LCPC: Danielle is a holistic psychotherapist that specializes in eating issues. She’s a wellness enthusiastic with a passion for mind, body health. She works with clients struggling with emotional eating, eating disorders, insomnia and anxiety. She offers psychotherapy at her Annapolis office and virtual sleep coaching sessions.