I was walking through the grocery store with my two little ones. Amazingly, they are often well-behaved in the store, but not today! Today they are jumping off and on the cart. First one in, then out, then back in. One trying to push “with”mommy, another off to look at the new book down the opposite aisle. “Can I have…?” “Put that back…”
Then, a pinched finger.
And then the children are crying as well…
Suddenly, I see a package of those yummy Pepperidge Farm chocolate raspberry cookies. Mommy needs a treat. It has been a rough day! Yum! That will make it a little more bearable!
Emotional eating is when we eat to fill up something other than our stomach! We sometimes eat for comfort, as a reward, or to relieve stress. I am sure we have all done this at times. I know I have and still do! Here are some examples of emotional eating:
1. You had a hard day at work, and on the drive home you see your favorite ice cream shop. That chocolate caramel milkshake looks like a fabulous treat for having such a rough day!
2. You are alone for the weekend, and after dinner you are stuffed. But, that pint of ice cream is calling your name! Don’t you deserve it to fill the emptiness?
3. You have just about had it with the kids! That diet Coke is just what you need to keep going…
4. You are at a friend’s house for a party. All her food is sooo yummy! You ate dinner before you came, but you can’t stop yourself from trying a little of everything!
5. You wake up in the night and can’t go back to sleep. Maybe a little snack will help with the doldrums of insomnia?
When we use food to manage stress, fill emptiness, as a reward, or just because it’s there, we are emotionally eating. Here are a few quick questions to help you evaluate your eating patterns:
Do you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full?
Can you identify when you are physically hungry?
Do you use food as a punishment and/or reward?
Do you eat when you are stressed/bored/tired/depressed/anxious?
Do you eat to feel comforted and safe?
The trouble with food is that we MUST eat to stay alive. It is not like cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. We can’t simply stop because we form an unhealthy relationship. Food is a must. But it is so difficult to find a healthy balance.
We even sometimes encourage this food relationship with our children: “If you will be quiet for just a little while, mom will give you a treat!” And, usually that treat is in the form of food.
So, how do we break the habit? How do we develop a healthy relationship with food? Here are a couple of tips:
1. Recognize when you are hungry. Physical hunger comes from the stomach. It is a gnawing feeling located there. Emotional hunger is focused in the head. When you are physically hungry, almost anything sounds good that you typically would eat. If you are emotionally hungry, only certain foods sound good: a cookie, some chips, that favorite ice cream, or how about comfort food – mac and cheese, anyone? Even healthy foods can be used to feed emotional cravings.
Physical hunger can be satisfied. Once you eat, the physical hunger will go away. Emotional hunger goes on and on! It isn’t satisfied by the food that you eat, so often you keep on eating! Emotional hunger can also be mindless. That’s why sitting in front of the tv with food isn’t a good idea. Even if it is a bag of carrots, you will eat more than your physical body needs.
2. Recognize your triggers. Stress, worry, depression, anxiety and boredom are common causes of emotional eating. But, we can also be emotional eaters with positive emotions. We often eat as a reward for successes!
It is no wonder we eat when we are stressed. Cortisol is released when we are stressed, and cortisol triggers cravings for sweet, salty and high-fat foods. It is also no wonder we crave carbohydrates. Serotonin is released when we eat carbs, leaving us with a feeling of peace and calm. The only problem, is that we may not even be physically hungry. We are simply medicating with food.
When you can identify your stressor, you can prepare to handle them more effectively. If you know you are stressed, worried, or tired, you can find ways to fill those needs without food. You must be aware what you are feeling and learning to recognize those emotions. Once you recognize them, it leads us to the next tip.
3. Find alternative to manage your emotions.
If you are physically hungry, it is best to eat!. If you are emotionally hungry, identify other tasks that you can do to calm and comfort yourself. Everyone will have different ways of doing this. If you are lonely, a phone call, an act of service, or a hug may be an alternative. If you are anxious, deep breaths, exercise, or distraction through another task may be beneficial. If you are bored, take a walk, play a game. or read a book.
You will find there is a pattern here.: you are replacing food with another healthy alternative. Find things that help you feel cared for, calm, centered, and grateful. Then, do these things when you feel emotional eating hit!
4. Wait 20-30 minutes. If you are unsure whether it is emotional or physical hunger, wait. Get a drink of water and wait it out. You may not stop the emotional eating, but you will delay it long enough to think about what you are doing. Waiting may help you determine what is really going on emotionally or physically. Maybe you truly are hungry? Or, maybe during that 20 minutes you will realize you are angry, and that is why you want that bag of chips!
5. Get some rest. The research shows when you are low on sleep, you have greater food cravings during the day to give you a boost of energy. It can be a terrible cycle because lack of sleep leads to greater stress, which leads to greater cravings. So, reevaluate your sleep patterns! See my post on sleep here.
6. Relax and take care of yourself. Because emotional eating is often triggered by stress and worry, relaxing and taking time for yourself is key. Maybe you don’t really want that bag of M&Ms, maybe you really need a minute to yourself. Learn how to breathe, meditate, calm down, and de-stress! Come back for future posts on how to manage stress!
When we use the above steps to challenge emotional eating, we will have greater success.
So, you may ask, “What happened to that bag of cookies?”
Well, we all have work to do, don’t we! Acknowledge, forgive, and move on!
For more ideas on healthy eating vs. emotional eating, see the following: Emotional Eating by HelpGuide.org.
There is also an article in the February Ensign titled, “Nourishing Our Bodies and Our Spirits” by Beverly Hyatt Neville. It is a nice reminder of how the physical and spiritual affect each other and how we need to make healthy choices for our bodies.