This applies to anyone who struggles with emotional eating, but through my coaching practice, I’ve noticed that it really affects women. We tend to put others first, especially our family because of our nurturing tendencies. But if we do that without taking care of ourselves, then we end up trying to pour from an empty vessel because our mental &/ or physical health suffer & there’s nothing left. This burnout can easily lead to emotional eating.
Eating centers so much around events–birthdays, weddings, blessings, funerals, family reunions, holidays, celebrations … anytime people get together they eat. I think that alone causes us to associate food with feelings.
I remember eating when I was lonely, depressed, or even just after a celebration. Although I was happy, I would still eat to fill the void of something great ending. But by far, I would eat my negative feelings a lot more.
It took years of practice for me to get to the place I am now. I remember when I lived in VA & I went to a church activity. I felt disconnected from my friends & like I didn’t belong there. Afterward, I went to get some nachos & ate them alone in my car & just sobbed. It sounds pretty pathetic, but I feel like I’m not the only one who’s ever done that or done something similar. Of course, I felt worse afterward & it did nothing to help me feel more connected to anyone.
I’ve come a long way since then. I remember the summer before COVID we had a really busy summer with lots of company coming & going. On our first day of normalcy & after my hubby got home from work, I told him I needed him to take the kids so I could have a bath & rejuvenate myself a bit. I needed some self-care.
While in the bath, I was able to reflect on why I was feeling the way I was feeling. I decided I needed some friend time, so I scheduled a movie night with some friends. This sounds simple enough, but it’s surprising how many people don’t know how to do this or simply don’t take the time to do this, & it makes me sad. That used to be me. I’m definitely not perfect at it, but I’ve come a long way & it’s helped me avoid emotional eating.
Here are my top 10 tips for combatting emotional eating:
1. Ask yourself what void you’re trying to fill?
When you’re tempted to eat your emotions, ask yourself what void you’re trying to fill. Are you feeling disconnected from friendships? Are you feeling a lack of contentment at work? Are you just tired? Stressed? Feeling stuck in your weight-loss journey? Maybe you’re not taking time to take care of yourself with the basics–nourishing your body with healthy foods, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, or exercising. Brainstorm ways to fill these voids & then take ACTION. Do one thing that will help you fill the void you are trying to fill with food.
2. Food shouldn’t be abused
Food should be used to energize us–and yes, we can definitely eat when we’re celebrating & for fun–but when we start to abuse it, it becomes an ineffective tool that will never satisfy & will leave us feeling worse about ourselves. On top of that, we still have not addressed our feelings, so in the end, we’re even worse off.
3. Fast forward to how you’ll feel after you eat something
Try to pause, take a breath, & redirect your thoughts & actions. How will you feel after you eat that piece of cake or ice cream? If your thought is “I don’t care how I feel,” then you know you’re not eating it for the right reasons. This can trigger an emotional awareness in you that you need to dig a bit deeper to figure out why you’re feeling the emotions you’re feeling.
4. Remove the Temptation
Throw it away if you’re able. It’s a lot harder to emotionally eat if junk food isn’t available. If you live with someone that insists on having some junk food in the house, keep it in a bag at the top of a pantry or out of view. Keep healthier goodies on hand, but of course, those should be eaten in moderation as well & not abused.
5. Engage in self-care
Stop & engage in self-care. Some of my favorite quick forms of self-care are to journal, text a friend, text my mom or sister, or chat with my hubby. After I do that, then I’m in the right headspace to assess what’s really going on & why I felt the need to emotionally eat in the first place. The more you make self-care a priority, the more self-aware you will become. When I start having a short temper with my family, lack energy or motivation, I know I am due for self-care. Some of my other, longer forms of self-care are: take baths, read a good book, hang out with friends, go on a walk in our beautiful mountains, take a jog, go out with my hubby, do something creative, organize my house, chat with my sisters or mom, or have a nap if I can.
6. Write down your feelings!
Writing down your feelings is a great way to dig a bit deeper & figure out what you really need. Sometimes when I write, I just get a loose piece of paper & scribble down my feelings not meant for anyone to read. I then crumble up the paper & throw it away! It feels so good. I allow myself to feel all the feelings & then throw them in the trash, which to me is symbolic of letting those feelings go.
7. Use affirmations to crowd out negative thoughts
Crowd out the negative thoughts with positive thoughts using affirmations. When you want to emotionally eat, you’re in a negative headspace. The goal is to not stay there for very long. It’s fine & even encouraged to acknowledge your negative thoughts & let them pass through you, but if you can replace those negative thoughts with positive thoughts, then you won’t be in that headspace for long.
It’s a great idea to have at least 3-4 affirmations that you say daily & have memorized so you can say them in your head during your weakest moments. Some of my personal favorites are “nothing tastes as good as being thin & healthy feels”; “I’m that girl that stays on plan no matter what”; “I don’t eat sugar”; and “I’m that girl who sets boundaries for herself.” If you need some ideas, listen to the “I’m That Girl” poddy. I know it might kind of sound a little woo-woo, but I promise you it works!
8. Identify Your Stress
If you’re emotionally eating because you’re highly stressed in your life, then it’s imperative to figure out what you can change about your life, and what you can say “no” to, remove, or delegate. If you don’t have enough time for yourself, then something has got to change in your life ASAP & for the sake of your health, it’s up to you to change it!
Sometimes things come up in life that we have no control over- we’ve all been dealing with his pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, our Texas friends are dealing with a cold winter with power outages (we’re praying for you!) & there are natural disasters, accidents, diseases, deaths, divorces, disappointments, betrayals & other things we can’t foresee or control. I urge you to do your very best with the circumstances you’re in. Control what you have control over which is your emotions & how you choose to react to the circumstances around you. Easier said than done, I know, but try your best & do the best with what you have! Bottom line, don’t use food to try to make you feel better. It won’t. During these times, self-care is more important than ever!
9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
If you do emotionally eat, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not doing yourself any favors, & you need to be your biggest advocate. Use it as a learning experience, & next time remember how you felt when you did emotionally eat (this is where a journal comes in handy). The good news is, like anything else, when you practice re-directing your emotional eating desires, the easier it becomes.
10. Don’t Give Up
If emotional eating is something that you have a really hard time with, it will take time for it to get better, but don’t give up. Keep trying even if you fall short. And sometimes even if you feel like you have a good handle on it, it can creep back up. Don’t let it control you. You are worth taking control of it. You can do it!
When you love yourself enough to take care of yourself, acknowledge your feelings, & take action to improve those feelings, then not only does your mental health improve but your physical health does as well, & you will be less likely to want to emotionally eat. If self-care feels way too far out of your comfort zone, do something today to change it! Reassess your life and figure out how you can make self-care a priority. You have more to give others when you take care of yourself. And you’re worth it!!
I’d love to hear what works for you. What are your favorite forms of self-care?