Emotional eating isn’t something that only overweight people do. People of all shapes and sizes use food to comfort themselves, because they’re bored, sad, lonely, or angry. At first you think that you’re hungry, so you go for a pint of ice cream in the freezer, but then before you know it, you’ve eaten almost the entire pint and you’ve gone from hungry to disgusted in a matter of minutes. Where those minutes have gone you have no idea, because it seems like you were almost in a trance through the whole thing. Even if you did notice what you were doing you probably rationalized all the thoughts that were telling you to stop, because “you deserve it”, or “you’ve been really good lately”, or “it’s only today, I won’t do it tomorrow, so let me just enjoy it.” But, what ends up happening is that today becomes tomorrow and then tomorrow becomes the next day and the next, and before long you’ve created a habit of comforting your anxiety with food, thinking that it’s going to help. All it does though is make your problems worse, because now on top of your boredom, loneliness, sadness, or anger is guilt. And what you’re left with is a vicious cycle that won’t end unless you make a conscious decision and effort to end it yourself.
Here are a 10 tips to use the next time you feel like masking your feelings with food:
1. Dig deep – The first thing you absolutely must do is figure out why and when you eat. What feelings are you trying to avoid dealing with? Did something happen at work, do you feel sad or angry? Figure out your patterns, so you can watch out for them next time.
2. Make a List - Make a list of things you can do instead of eating the next time you feel the urge to raid your refrigerator. You can include all the tips listed here plus some others that you think might help you specifically, such as calling a friend for help or occupying yourself with something else.
3. Wait 10 Minutes – If you feel the need to eat make sure to wait 10 minutes before indulging. Most of the time you’ll be able to talk yourself out of it and see that you don’t really want to eat.
4. Ask Yourself This Question – “What purpose is this serving me?” If the purpose of eating is to console yourself maybe you need to find another strategy. Think back to all the other times you ate out of discomfort and think about how you felt. Probably the only purpose it served was to make you feel good in the moment, but pretty badly for hours after and maybe even into the next day. You don’t need to feel that way. You’ll feel much better if you fight the urge.
5. Brush Your Teeth – – Ever have orange juice after brushing your teeth? Not so good, huh! Walk away from the temptations and instead go for your toothbrush. You’ll be less likely to eat after you brushed your teeth.
6. Use a Reminder Designate an object as your reminder and put it in a place where you can see it, such as the kitchen, so that the next time you go towards food for comfort you’ll see it and be reminded that you don’t really want to eat right now.
7. Repeat – Tell yourself, “this is my pattern, this is what I do.” When you understand what’s really going on with yourself and you recognize it as a series of habits and behaviors it’s easier to get a handle on things and steer it in a different direction. Keep telling yourself this mantra when you feel like eating, so that you drive home the point that this is just your pattern. You can change that pattern!
8. Journal – Writing down what you’re thinking and feeling can really help you work things out. The process of writing can help you get to the bottom of your thoughts and can help make sense of things. Remember that no one is reading it, so let it all out there and don’t worry about judgements.
9. Have a Support System – Choose someone you trust who you know will support you in your fight against this. Call them when you need to (kind of like a sponsor at an AA meeting).
10. Don’t Beat Yourself Up - If you do have an emotional eating episode do not be mad at yourself. What’s done is done, so feeling guilty is pointless. It will only feed into the cycle and force you to continue this pattern. All you can do is learn from the experience and strategize on how you’re going to deal with it next time. Instead, give yourself some major praise for actually thinking about these things and trying to do something about it. You can’t be perfect, you can only try your best.