How often have you turned to food in times of uncomfortable, unpleasant, emotion? You’re not alone. Many of us find ourselves in a pattern of turning to food when we experience emotions such as these. We might do this to distract, numb, or comfort ourselves. You probably already know, however, that the relief brought by food is only temporary. The distraction, numbness, or comfort is fleeting, and after we’re through we’re often stuck with different, but equally unpleasant emotions. Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. This isn’t a pattern against which we’re powerless, despite how little hope we might have that we can break free. Let’s look at five steps you can take to handle emotional eating.
The better in tune you are with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, the better equipped you’ll be to control how you respond to them. This is where cultivating mindfulness – the ability to identify and explore your thoughts, emotions, and circumstances without judgment or reaction – will be a great asset. The good news is you’re already demonstrating at least some mindfulness already. You’ve already developed a level of self-awareness sufficient to identify your problem in the first place. Developing this skill further will strengthen your ability to manage how you respond to your emotions, empowering you to pursue options other than food. While there are many ways to cultivate mindfulness, practicing meditation is one of the simplest and most effective.
Next, you’ll want to create space between the emotions you’re experiencing and the moment you turn to food to manage them. Whenever you feel the urge to turn to food to avoid facing an unpleasant emotion, take a deep breath, acknowledge what’s going on without judgement, and work to delay acting on your impulses. Even if you’re only able to delay turning to food by one second from when you are experiencing emotions, you’re making progress. Each second after that will be even easier. You may find that the sense of urgency declines as you build the skill of letting the emotion “be”. Another step you might consider taking to create space is physically distancing yourself from the foods you most often turn. The rich, intense flavors and textures of such foods serve to distract us from whatever we’re experiencing in ways that other foods might not. Whatever your reasons for your food of choice, shaping your environment to limit access to them might be worth considering. Inconvenience and avoidance, however, might not be the most effective long-term solution, as simply ignoring a problem doesn’t necessarily make it go away. In the short-term, though, it might help you minimize the impact emotional eating has on your health and fitness goals.
Practice these skills this week and stay tuned for more tips next week. Meditation and putting space between you and foods you want to avoid will both be difficult, but powerful. If you have questions or need some accountability, don’t be afraid to ask your coaches questions or schedule a nutrition meeting. We are here to help you work through it!