Emotional eating has gotten quite the bad rap over the years. Despite the buzz its has created, it is not a crime to emotionally eat.
Humans all have emotions and food is a way to cope with the fluctuations of feelings and chemically speaking, a rollercoaster of brain and body imbalances. Food can actually benefit you in a positive way in relation to stress. For example, emotionally eating frequently happens with family and friends! We celebrate life events and holidays around food. While sharing a meal with others, we grow in our relationship with each other. Associating emotions with eating, good and bad is emotional eating. It is crucial to know that celebrating with food is not a bad thing. In addition, sometimes the body does wants specific foods and those cravings align with nutritional needs.
However, sometimes those cravings are your body’s aching for something else. The reason we are addressing emotional eating today is because of the deeper reasons why we turn to emotional eating in response to negative or stressful emotions. Many people have told me that they feel like there is hole inside of them and they are putting more and more food into their bodies to fill try to fill the hole or to squash down the feelings. That may be why you are reading this article today; because you know that there is a desire deep inside of you that food will never be able to quench. No matter how much you eat, no matter how much you restrict, that food is never going to go in and heal and love you and fully nourish you.
Diet culture inundates us with beliefs that we are always supposed to be controlling our weight. The diet industry is a billion industry because we are buying into the idea of our weight never being enough. When we face fluctuations in our weight, there are often feelings of shame and failure. Emotional dieting is the same as emotional eating. You may feel like you are not enough and you turn to managing your food as a way to feel like you are in control. By doing so, you could be facing the same cycle of shame and self-disappointment, and avoiding the deeper reasons why you are coving a stress with food.
Be Compassionate to Yourself
Compassion is the key to addressing emotional eating. Compassion is the foundation upon which all the other steps are built. It is important that you partner with yourself by treating yourself with compassion. There is no need to fight, shame, or resent yourself. If you find yourself thinking these thoughts, you not working with yourself and especially not showing compassion. Start by making sure you are treating yourself in a loving way. Compassion is key to moving forward and seeing personal growth in your emotional eating process.
There is Nothing Wrong with You
It is also important to start this process knowing there is nothing wrong with you. You are a human being. You are having a human experience when you crave food because of stress. We all have coping mechanisms and when we are feeling vulnerable, we have instincts to turn to food. When our lives become uncomfortable, we reach for something familiar and comfortable to us. This does not only happen with food. Sometimes we reach for someone, sometimes we reach for alcohol or a drug or a bad behavior. Although those actions are normal, and sometimes needed, they may not be helpful in serving us in a long term healthy and productive way. Even when you find yourself utilizing those coping mechanisms, know that you are human. You are having this experience right now, and maybe in two months from now, all of it will go away. This coping mechanism may not go away and that may be the issue. By addressing the coping mechanism, you will be able to personally develop healthier and more productive responses to stress.
Growth does not happen from choosing to eat or not eat, but instead in the process of seeking the deeper reasons to what is triggering your emotional eating.
If we bypass the process of digging deeper, and only try to fix the food, it will get us nowhere. Getting rid of unhealthy foods is a healthy step, but it is not addressing the real issue with emotional eating. However, when one begins to dig deeper into their emotional eating, the real issues can be addressed. When you start to dissect those root issues, things can then shift and start to change for a long-term benefit.
If you are wanting to address those issues head on and take the steps toward personal growth, take a breath and keep reading.
Emotional eating during a stressful time can be addressed with five actions below.
1. Be Proactive
As you reach for the food to “fix” that emotional stress, take a deep breath and consider why your body wants to be “fixed” with food. How can we go even deeper? To be proactive with emotional eating, we can ask “When do I get triggered? “What happens to me?”
- Is it more common during a time when I do not have a routine, such as visiting family or on vacation?
- Are you most likely to turn to food when you are by yourself, or after a long day at work?
If you notice some of these trends in your day, address it head on. Write down those triggers and habits you have. Writing down the triggers you experience will help you handle around it and even begin to implement strategies to combat the effects of those triggering situations.
It is important to remember the root of the issue with emotional eating is not about fixing the food. It is about being with yourself and finding a way to heal that place in you.
There are so many different things that you can do to support yourself with the emotions that are coming up that are making you emotionally diet or emotionally eat. Proactively addressing the reasons behind the areas of desired change is the first step to achieving the personal goals you have for yourself.
2. Make a Plan
Emotionally eating or dieting signals the need for introspection and reflection. You can use behaviors such as emotional eating or other coping mechanisms around your food as a red flag that there is more going on than meets the eye. Asking questions such as,
- “Am I restricting myself?”
- “Am I obsessing over things more than I usually do?”
- “Why am I feeling this way?”
- “Is there something I am hating about myself?”
Addressing such questions will help you get to the bottom of what is really happening at the core of your being, and in turn, causing your emotional eating. Processes like journaling regularly, seeing a therapist, and scheduling a session with someone like me is an excellent plan to start addressing the root issue that causes you to seek out positive feelings through food.
This process of going deeper will help you have more compassion for yourself and break those stress habits that you hate.
But, you have to make a plan of attack to address those items that trigger you into any type of emotionally eating. So, start your plan now. Do some journaling, find yourself a therapist, reach out to me, schedule a session with me. Do something that is going to address these deeper places that you may not be able to access on your own. It is so important for you if you are struggling deeply to find someone to support you and help you to love yourself more.
Self-care is a topic that is thrown around often as an action to solve all sorts of stress related issues. Even though the term, self-care, may be used often, it is utterly important to seek self care when addressing emotional eating. When you are able to identify and cut out those food related negative behaviors, and replace them with self-care, you are establishing new healthy habits.
The biggest thing to remember is that this is a process, rather than just an on-off switch.
When you are emotional eating, it is difficult to stop yourself and seek out a different form of self-care. To start this process of practicing self-care, include it in your day, regardless of your food choices. Self-care in other moments throughout the day aid in soothing of the nervous system. Some forms of self-care are creating some sort of spiritual practice such as getting down on your hands and knees and praying or meditating. Becoming activity is another form of self-care. Activities such as yoga, walking, running, playing a sport, or other activities you love that require you to move are perfect for self-care. Whatever you can do to calm your nervous system, lower you stress level, and release that anxiety will greatly support your response to emotional eating.
Once you have strong self-care actions in your proverbial toolbelt, create a practice plan that you can do day in and day out. When you find that you are emotionally eating more, these are the moments for you to pick a bigger discipline and that self-care practice will be more of a habit to replace emotional eating than ever before. These new self—care habits will shift your attention from food that is external, to the internal food that feeds you spirit and soul.
4. Celebrate Your Growth
Self-awareness is extremely important and should be celebrated! Not only is self awareness bringing you to a stronger and healthier personal state, it also builds your confidence in who you are.
Every time you stop and take that breath, then assess why you are craving food in that moment, is a victory!
You are connecting with yourself on a much deeper level than simply identifying that you are stressed and seeking a quick fix. There is going to still be a time where you may still emotionally eat, but the goal is self awareness, self-care, and growth! The answer is not to avoid emotionally eating again and never return to those tendencies again. But instead, the goal is growth and the development of healthy habits to help you find ways you can achieve your personal goals, and celebrate yourself.
5. Feel No Shame
There is no reason to feel shame when it comes to eating. When emotions are running high, we crave food. Eating is our body’s natural response to stress. However, all too often, emotional eating leaves us feeling ashamed. This initial shame begins a cycle where we are catapulted back into the same behaviors that we are ashamed of. Often, extreme dieting, food restrictions, self-deprivation, depression, are all feelings related to the shame associated with emotional eating. We want to make it about the food and how we are in the wrong, but long term, these negative thoughts do not work, and the cycle of shame only leaves us feeling horrible. Therefore, it is so important to nip shame in the bud. You are not your behavior with food, and no matter your actions, they do not define you.
Choose not to be stuck in shame and stay in that dark place. Use the knowledge you now have to show compassion to yourself and bring your perspective back to being empowered. That is key, my friends.
When you feel yourself reaching the point of shame, lean into compassion.
This is where you are going to gain control of your emotional eating cycle. If you do not know how to do that, please reach out to me. I can help you. I can support you.
Establish a Community of Support
Addressing emotional eating is not a journey that you have to do on your own! I would never be telling you about emotional eating if I did not have other people supporting me and helping me through the same process. Sometimes we all need that one person to hold us up and bring us into the light when we are feeling overwhelmed. As you embark on your own journey of addressing emotional eating in your life, make sure you have a few people to provide support to you in this process. In addition, they will be there to celebrate your growth and be inspired by you along the way!
After years of struggling with her own dysfunctional body-relationship Marla Mervis-Hartmann has transformed her experiences into services to help women discover honor and appreciation for their bodies.
Along side being a Reiki Master and teacher, Marla has followed her passion for women’s health down many paths of study including women’s sexual wellness; postpartum care; Restore Your Core educator training; Tantra teacher certification; Yoga teacher training, and massage therapy. This collected body of knowledge shines through in her offerings of Reiki to pregnant and postpartum mothers; teaching Mama Movement classes; and Love Your Body Love Yourself. In all of her work, Marla is devoted to empowering women to feel good about themselves and to live the life they desire.
Marla is a graduate of Kent State University and was the leading body image expert at Journey Malibu, a Drug/Alcohol rehabilitation center. As a professional speaker Marla has been featured at TEDx Salinas. Her on camera career has also led to acting and hosting engagements including the holistic healing talk shows “Pathways to Health” and “Voice America’s Radio Show: Live! Love! Thrive!” and her own program, “Transformational Travel.” She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son where she works full-time as a professional coach, speaker, facilitator and Living Light Reiki Master and Teacher.
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