When you eat when you are hungry you feel better. When you eat to stuff down emotions you feel stuffed and often worst. And still hungry.
True hunger comes on gradually over time. Emotional hunger comes on quick and furious and often knows no end.
Eating should be a pleasurable experience. I am not saying it’s all business over here, totally cool to look forward to your mom’s roast on Sunday night, have a weakness for fresh baking and enjoy your meals. The thing is, eating is not therapy. It is important to have other ways to deal with stress and unwanted emotions. Your only way cannot be to sit down with a glass of wine and a bag of chips at the end of the day.
It’s easy to be on a diet when life is easy. It’s easy to make the right choices and stay on track. Problem is, life is rarely easy for long. We have stress at work, families to deal with, kids that wake us up at night, and a long list of things to do. If you are pursuing weight loss in any way, finding new ways to cope with stress is in your best interest. It’s not about never having another beer or bowl of ice cream. It’s about being the one who chooses to do so when it is right for you, not because you need it after a stressful day.
Let’s try to identify your triggers before we talk strategies.
- Do you eat or drink to cope with stress?
- Do you snack when you are bored?
- Do you eat more when you are tired? (hint hint-we all do! Get to sleep :))
- Do you reward yourself with “cheat meals”?
- Do you use social occasions as an excuse to overeat?
Also since we talked weight loss, let’s still make sure you are eating enough, deprivation leads to binging. Maybe the reason you end up binging on a bag of chips is because you are actually hungry and your body is just trying to get what it needs. Chronic under-eating all day leads to binging in the evening. At some point your body is going to need proper fuel! Another too common scenario I see is the strict diet Monday to Friday only to blow it on the weekend because you “earned it”. Guilt follows, then more strict dieting that won’t last, and the cycle keeps going.
Putting a stop to emotional eating starts with putting a stop to all the extreme diets and severe calorie restrictions. No one can survive on celery juice! Eat to support your health and your goals, with a proper balance of protein, carbs and fat. Not sure if you need to eat more? Reach out and we would be happy to help you.
Eating or drinking to cope with stress? Try finding new ways to unwind. Try deep breathing or a meditating practice, there are so many easy ways to get started now with apps like Calm and Head Space. I like sitting down with a cup of tea myself. Or a good puppy cuddle. You could try playing solitaire on the computer. What is relaxing to us is not necessarily the wine itself, sure it has an effect, but it’s often the action of sitting down and taking a moment for ourselves that does the trick.
Eating when you are bored? Call or message a friend to catch up (does anybody still talk on the phone?). Pick up a good book to read, download a good podcast, or maybe it’s finally time to go through your front hall closet and organize it?
Eating when you are tired? Get to bed! Seriously prioritize sleep better in your life. Poor sleep contributes to weight gain, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Lack of sleep increases our cravings for highly palatable food (aka junk food). When sleep deprived, our drive for certain foods gets stronger and so does our inability to resist them. If this is a normal state for us and we repeat this behaviour often, it is easy to draw the connection to lack of sleep and your waist line.
Think you deserve a cheat meal? First off, I really hate that word. You are not married to your diet. You can certainly have a burger and fries when you want to, because you know that you are an adult making your own choices. The mentality of cutting out entire food groups and heavily restricting ourselves makes it so that we are more likely to give ourselves permission to go all-out on these cheat meals and give ourselves permission to eat like an a-hole. Pardon my French. There is no need to eat like it is your last meal on earth, because you know that it is not your last meal on earth! When I started on this journey I was all about the cheat meal, dreaming of it all week and thinking of what I could indulge in this weekend. It almost became obsessive, and weekly I would eat until I felt pretty much sick. This made it easy the next day to get back on track, but also left me feeling guilt and also like my actions weren’t truly aligned with my goals or values. I came to realize this wasn’t teaching me anything. I was eating so bland during the week it was hardly sustainable, and as I learned to let go of my bad food and good food list, I realized I could have ice cream on a Tuesday and be satisfied with just one scoop. No food should be off limits unless you have a legit reason not to eat it, like you need to carry an epipen for it.
Your friends made you do it? Now again, I will remind you that you are an adult, and you get to make your own choices. Try focusing on the conversations instead of the food and drinks. Suggest social activities that don’t only revolve around food. Bring a dish to the party that you can share and that is more in line with your goals, like a killer hummus with toasted pitas and veggies. Learn to say no thank you when you don’t want a drink or something to eat, save your yesses for something you truly want and will savour.
Reclaim your power. It’s easy to think it is the food that is the trigger, but truly it is our response to emotions. We need to feel comfortable being happy or sad or tired or mad, and learn to live with our emotions instead of stuffing them down with food or drinks.