Identify Your Emotional Eating Triggers
Do you find yourself reaching for the lolly jar or the biscuit barrel every time something goes wrong?
It could be a bad day at work? Or the kids are stressing you out? Or maybe you are bored? It’s ok you think, this will make me feel better……..
Years of experience has taught me that if I’m craving sugary foods, think ice-cream, lollies, chocolate, cookies, cakes, etc, (note: I eat good quality icecream and chocolate daily) it’s for one of two reasons:
1) I haven’t been eating enough calories or carbohydrates. Most women cut calories and carbs in the hope of losing weight, then end up binge eating, or
2) There’s something going on far deeper than food. I am at the point now where I know the difference between actually being hungry and needing to eat more carbs because my body needs it and eating for emotional reasons.
Many females come to us under-eating. Typical diet culture promotes eating less and exercising more, which leads to binge eating and yo yo dieting. If you are eating adequate calories to fuel your body, you’re sleeping well, your energy is stable, digestion is good and your cravings are under control, yet you still find yourself emotional eating then perhaps it’s time to dig deeper.
So what causes you to head to the refrigerator and indulge in less than ideal foods? Is it a bad day at work? A disagreement with a close friend? Or perhaps having too much time on your hands?
Recognising the emotions that trigger overeating is the first step towards overcoming emotional eating, or eating in response to feelings rather than true hunger. One way to increase your self-awareness is to start taking notes of the reasons you eat. Keep a log for a few days of what you eat and the emotion you feel just before eating.
To get you started on this task, try to identify whether you are experiencing some of these common triggers of emotional eating:
Stress and anxiety: Whether they’re reacting to a hard day at work or experiencing anxiety about an upcoming change in their lives, many people use food to provide comfort and relief.
Loneliness: It’s common for people to try to fill the emptiness they feel with their favourite foods.
Anger: Whether they’re angry or frustrated with themselves, another person, or a situation, some people try to stifle their feelings with food rather than confronting an issue or a person head-on.
Sadness, depression, or hopelessness: Instead of facing feelings of sadness or depression, people often overindulge in “comfort” foods, thinking that will make them feel better.
Boredom: When people have nothing to occupy their minds or their time, they often pass the hours by eating.
Remember, being aware of the emotions that trigger your unhealthy behaviour will help you learn how to better deal with them. When you feel an emotion arise that you know will tempt you to overeat, try a healthier activity instead — go for a walk, call a friend, or take a bath. Make a list of the healthy activities you are most likely to do on a note card or post-it so you can easily consult it when needed.
At the core of EVERY emotional eating episode is a feeling. Whether that feeling be boredom, anger, guilt, sadness, loneliness, inadequacy, stress or fear, it is an emotion asking for action. Although these feelings feel “bad” they are actually “good.” They are trying to tell us something. They are our own personal guidance system and if we hear, listen, understand and learn from them we are on our way to leading a more satisfied, less stressful life.
By burying our feelings under food we increase the amount of stress we feel, either now or in the future. It’s important to learn from our feelings in a better way than distracting ourselves with food. Feelings attempt to guide us and motivate us to satisfy our needs, wants and desires which is necessary in order to take good care of ourselves and those around us.
Feeling discomfort or pain is termed a “bad” feeling and is a sign that our needs, wants or desires are not being met. It is a call for action to be taken. When we feel “good” we are said to be dancing with life. Sometimes, instead of taking the necessary action, we distract ourselves by eating for momentary pleasure and although we may feel temporary relief more often than not thus begins the habit, the dependence, the coping mechanism but the unmet need is still being unheard. When we do actually take care of the need we feel satisfied and confident that we can handle the situation if it arises again.
Emotional eating is a response to a feeling rather than that of true physical hunger. Most of us who have weight troubles are emotional eaters. We don’t differentiate between real physical hunger and emotional hunger. By learning about your feelings and identifying them, you are able to satisfy your emotional needs with other methods rather than food. And when you do this your life will be full of satisfaction, real happiness and joy and food will be a positive experience.
A great tool I use when I am not sure if I want to eat due to actually being hungry or I am wanting to emotional eat is to firstly stop (I imagine a big red stop sign) and ask myself, “Are you truly hungry?” ”When did I have my last meal?” If the answer is yes or it’s been more than 4 hours since I ate my last meal I will eat a meal or snack that includes protein, fat and simple sugars from fruit, OJ, honey, milk, homemade ice-cream or custard or good quality chocolate and more often than not the craving disappears as I was actually hungry. If not I just eat a small amount of whatever it is I am craving like good quality chocolate or icecream.
The trick here is not to go overboard! Mostly though the answer will be I’m actually not really hungry, then I know to ask myself, “what’s going on?” For me, the emotions of loneliness and boredom arise often, always at night time, especially when my husband is working away. Time to pick up the phone and call a friend or get engrossed in a Netflix series.
Navigating your way through emotional eating is not easy but just like any challenge we don’t grow when it’s easy, we grow when we face the challenge head on.