Here are five techniques to help break emotional eating, starting with re-patterning your behavior and next delving into those boxed-up emotions.
You know what to eat. And what not to. You don’t eat gluten or sugar, nor do you drink soda. You’re meticulous about what food you put into your mouth. And how could you not be? You’ve read so much about food and wellness that you’ve seriously considered becoming a health coach/nutritionist/food guru/wellness activist.
But you have an issue. Something you hide very well. It only happens when you’re alone. And you try to avoid that.
When it happens, the food demon takes over. You had a bad day. You’re feeling stressed, angry, sad, or all three! You’re drawn to the refrigerator, as you tell yourself the food will resolve the emotion. You reach for the raw almond butter (it’s raw because you know roasted nut butters are damaged fat). The spoon goes into the jar, and then into your mouth. Over and over again. You’re not quite conscious of this. It’s almost meditational. Relief and distraction.
By now, half the jar is gone. Consciousness catches up. The guilt. The shame. The sadness. You haven’t made a dent in the original emotion you were eating over. The almond butter didn’t relieve the stress or loneliness you wanted it to. Instead, you feel worse. You promise yourself you won’t do this again, ever. You vow never to keep almond butter in the house again, just like you did with the ice-cream, chocolate and gluten-free cookies.
You hear a voice, which says, “There has to be a better way.” And there is.
It starts by re-patterning your behavior and delving into those boxed-up emotions.
Below are five techniques I use with my clients to help break their emotional eating:
1. Recognize it is a conditioned response.
It’s a habit, not an addiction (even if it feels that way). You’ve created a neural pathway in the brain, which tells you to eat when stressed/bored/depleted/frustrated/disconnected. To break this, you don’t even need to understand what the emotional trigger is. You simply need to do something different from the day before (see point 2). Then repeat it.
2. Find a replacement habit.
Choose a self-care habit which makes you feel happy. Take a bath with aromatherapy oils, burn some incense, meditate (if you don’t know how to meditate, try MBG’s online meditation course with Charlie Knoles), dance, clean out your wardrobe, or start a blog. Select one and repeat it for 21 days to create a new habit.
3. Identify the benefit.
You’re getting a benefit from emotionally eating, even if you don’t think you are. Perhaps it’s a momentary feeling of bliss, a discharge of emotions, a feeling of rebellion, or it distracts you from life. Whatever it is, write it down and contemplate how valuable it is to you.
4. Visualize your life free from emotional eating.
Close your eyes and picture your dream life. Where are you? What makes it dreamlike? How do you feel? What’s the expression on your face? Melt into this feeling and enjoy it. Write this image and feeling down, preferably under the benefit you’re getting from the emotional eating. Which one feels nicer? When your dream life feels nicer than the benefit, you can break your emotional eating.
5. Do some emotional digging.
When you’re ready, start delving into these emotions. What feelings are you suppressing? What memories pop into your head that you dismiss? These are the ones you want to release. Use meditation, emotional freedom technique (EFT), rituals of release and forgiveness to clear them. This is a deep topic but you don’t need to have this resolved to stop emotional eating. You can break this cycle right now by applying techniques 1-4.