Emotional Eating is eating to feed your emotions rather than your body. It’s sometimes referred to as stress eating because emotional eating is often triggered by stressful events or emotions. But emotional eating is more than just stress, it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism to handle your feelings. Knowing that you’re an emotional eater is the first steps towards healing, but many individuals don’t even realize that they’re emotional eaters! Maybe you think you just have self-control issues or simply love to eat.
But there are actually several signs you can use to identify if you’re an emotional eater. You may be struggling with weight loss or find it difficult to follow a healthy eating plan. You may want to lose weight, but not understand that your weight gain is a result of emotional eating. By creating awareness around emotional eating, you can start your journey towards healing it for good!
Since you first have to be aware of your emotional eating in order to change it, here are 6 signs you’re an emotional eater (and might not have realized it).
1. Thoughts about food consume you
Food obsession is something you may struggle with, thinking about it almost constantly. Food obsession could look like fixating on a diet, meal plan, or calorie consumption. If you spend a large portion of your day thinking about food this could be a sign that you’re an emotional eater.
2. You eat when you’re happy
While this may be surprising to some, often individuals emotionally eat when they’re happy - not just sad. You may see eating as a reward to happy news or emotions, and this is often learned from eating at holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. While it’s definitely not wrong to enjoy food with others, be aware if you use happiness or a celebration as an excuse to overeat or binge on foods you enjoy.
3. You use food to fill a void
When you’re feeling down, you seek out “comfort food”. This might look like craving foods like ice cream, cake, chocolate and cookies that lead to overeating when you do consume them.
4. You eat even when you’re full
Even if you’ve just eaten and feel full, you’ll keep eating. You may not feel satisfied or you may actually want to stop eating but find you can’t. This is often the case when you momentarily feel better from eating and want to recapture that feeling with more food. You might even resist eating but can’t wait to eat again as you think about how satisfied you’ll feel when you get to eat.
5. You’ve followed (and failed) fad diets
Fad diets tend to make extraordinary (and unrealistic) promises. They promise rapid weight loss and suppressed appetites usually as a result of extreme restrictions. Fad diets create unsustainable eating patterns and ultimately damage individuals’ relationships with food. If you’ve found yourself on the diet rollercoaster, and constantly trying (then failing) to follow new diets, you’re likely an emotional eater.
6. Your eating feels out of control
When you’re emotionally eating, you’re relying on food for your happiness and to escape negative feelings. When you no longer eat based on your hunger signals, you’re emotionally eating. If you can’t put the food down or can’t resist overeating, you’re emotionally eating.
Becoming aware of your emotional eating is the first step towards healing. If these signs help you discover that you are an emotional eater, I’d love to hear from you! Speaking with a qualified therapist can help you understand why you eat emotionally and teach you how to manage it.
Dealing with some anxiety is a normal part of life. In fact, anxiety isn’t all bad. It can alert you of danger, motivate you and help you make decisions. But when anxiety becomes a daily struggle and interferes with your daily living, it can trigger emotional eating and other harmful coping behaviours such as avoidance or social isolation. If your anxiety is at this point, you may consider asking someone for help. Speaking and working with a qualified practitioner or therapist can help you learn to manage your anxiety and ease anxious thoughts as they arise.
If you find that anxious thoughts are triggers for your emotional eating, you’re not alone!
Here are 7 things I find helpful for easing anxiety naturally:
Anxiety often has physical symptoms. You may feel your heart start to pound harder, your muscles tense, your stomach flip and your breathing get faster. A simple way to ease these symptoms is to practice deep breathing. Why? Deep breathing is the key to relaxation (the opposite of anxiousness). Try my breathing exercise that you can find in my Free Emotional Eating Toolkit here.
2. Yoga and Meditation
Meditation is known for easing anxiety by stilling your mind and bringing yourself into the present moment. Yoga nidra is a guided meditation that is perfect for beginners! Here is a guided meditation you can try: Yoga Nidra Meditation
Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. Sleeping recharges your brain and improves your focus, concentration, and mood. To sleep more soundly, block out seven to nine hours for a full night of uninterrupted sleep, and try waking up at the same time every day, including weekends. When you get enough sleep, you’re better able to manage stress and anxiety (without the unhealthy coping like turning to food).
Regular exercise is good for not just your physical health but your mental health too. Researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise (think jogging, walking, swimming or cycling) has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Only five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects!
Aromatherapy is the practice of inhaling the scent of essential oils to improve your well-being and can be a natural remedy for anxiety and stress. Lavender essential oil, for example, is thought to alleviate anxiety by inducing a calming effect on the central nervous system. I like to diffuse lavender in a diffuser or use lavender infused bath salts to help me de-stress and unwind after a long day.
6. Eat the Right Foods
Imbalanced blood sugar levels, food intolerances and poor-quality foods can all cause changes to your mood. Balance your mood by eating mostly whole foods and eating at scheduled times throughout the day. If you struggle with anxiety, it may be a good idea to try ditching caffeine for awhile and seeing if that helps. Caffeine is a stimulant which means it can cause similar symptoms associated with anxiety, such as feeling nervous, nauseous, light-headed, jittery and anxious.
People who struggle with anxiety often beat themselves up over it. But this only makes your anxiousness worse and can trigger emotional eating. Instead of criticizing yourself, try to show yourself some self-compassion. When you’re feeling anxious, what you really need is self-soothing. Treating yourself with self-compassion is just the self-soothing practice you need! Try positive self-talk and ample amounts of self-care – treat yourself like a small child or a loved one if they were in pain.
If you’re feeling anxious, these ideas may help! Not only can this help manage emotional eating, but it results in better overall mental and emotional health. Remember that natural remedies may help ease anxiety, but they don’t replace professional help. If you experience increased or persistent anxiety, please talk to your doctor about your concerns and treatment options.
I spent years hating my body. I could pick out a million things wrong with it. But hating my body left me miserable most of the time. I was either starting yet another crash diet or breaking that diet by bingeing and emotional eating. The real problem was that I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.
Can you relate?
If you aren’t comfortable with your body then chances are you want to change it. Maybe you want to lose weight or just change your shape. But the truth is, weight loss won’t make you happy. It won’t make you automatically love and accept your body. If you nit-pick small imperfections now, you’ll continue to do so at a different weight too. Freedom from this is found by nurturing your body - the body you have right now. And when you nurture the body you have, your acceptance and love for your body will grow. And isn’t that all you ever wanted in the first place?
So, if you’re ready to ditch the self-loathing, negative self-talk and poor body-image, here are 8 ways you can nurture the body you have now!
1. Celebrate your strength
Switch your focus from appearance to everything your body can do. Whether it’s carrying 2 kids at a time, 6 bags of groceries or weights at the gym, appreciate the movement that you can do. A strong, active body is a beautiful body!
2. Let Go of The Scale
There are so many ways you can measure your health and wellbeing without being a slave to the scale. Instead of weighing yourself obsessively, ask yourself how you’re feeling. Do you have energy or are you tired? Do you feel sluggish or awake? Do you feel clear or bloated? Your body will give you clues if you’re eating or doing something that isn’t working. Try paying attention to these signals instead of just your weight. When you feel good, you look good!
3. Make Fitness Fun
Movement doesn’t have to be a punishment. In fact, may studies show that the best type of exercise is the type you enjoy! If you have fun, you’ll stick with it. Regularly moving your body helps to nurture it and you’ll reap the many physical and mental health benefits of being active.
4. Accept Your Body Type
If you’re barely 5 feet tall, guess what? You’re not going to look like a 6-foot supermodel - and that’s okay! Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. If you take a moment to list off a handful of people you find attractive, you’ll probably realize they all look completely different. Instead of comparing your body type to others, focus on being the healthiest and happiest version of you!
5. Let Go of Perfection
Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do. Your body will never be perfect but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses and change your inner dialogue to a positive one!
6. Focus on What Feels Good
The problem with most diets is that they’re too restrictive. They tell you everything you can’t eat and you’re left feeling deprived. Instead of creating a list of restrictions, create healthy habits. Experiment with whole foods and discover what you enjoy and makes you feel good! Food should be energizing and fuel for your day. It shouldn’t make you feel sluggish, bloated or tired. So, focus on what feels good to nurture your body.
7. Find an Eating Routine that Works for You
Some people like to skip breakfast while others can’t live without it. Eating and healthy living isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Figure out what works for you and create a routine that is manageable long-term.
8. Start a Gratitude Journal
Write down one thing you appreciate or admire about your body every single day. Once you get started, it’ll be hard to stop! The human body is an amazing vessel and does so much to ensure we’re able to live our lives to the fullest. Most people take their health for granted and don’t appreciate being healthy until it’s gone. Take time to appreciate all your body does for you!
Have you put yourself through extreme measures to lose weight? Whether its through restricting calories, carbs, excessive exercise or chronic dieting, many emotional eaters go through a vicious cycle of dieting, bingeing, dieting, bingeing. The problem is, diets teach us that we need to control what and how much we eat in order to be thin and healthy. So what do we do? We rely on willpower to keep us on track for a short period of time.
Willpower is defined as the ability to control yourself, or strong determination that allows you to do something difficult. But the problem is, willpower is just saying no - which is why it doesn't work. Relying on willpower to make eating changes may work for a short period of time – but only until you break it! Then you feel guilty, you may binge because you feel bad about yourself for not having any willpower and then the cycle starts all over again.
For the longest time, I thought that if I just had better discipline, I’d be able to lose weight, be thinner and as a result, be happier. This was because I had a poor relationship with food and my body and I’ve since learned that emotional eating is not a willpower problem.
Why Willpower Doesn't Work When It Comes to Eating and Weight
Your body regulates hunger, fullness, cravings and more through hormones (which act as messengers in your body). When you rely on willpower to follow a diet, you likely are ignoring your hunger cues, your cravings (which sometimes are good) and your natural eating patterns and appetite. What’s the problem with this, you may ask? Isn’t this how you lose weight?
When you control your eating through dieting, you're literally fighting against your body's natural functions! Ignoring your hunger cues and natural appetite means you end up eating less than you need. While this may result in some weight loss in the short term, your body is in panic mode and is trying to do what it can to get more energy. This means more intense cravings and a tendency to overeat and binge when you do eat.
In the past, whenever I’ve followed a diet for weight loss, it was always short term. I would want to lose X amount of weight in X amount of time. I would diet and restrict my eating only to get to my goal and start binge eating and overeating like crazy! Why? Because I was trying to control and change my eating in a way that goes against my body’s natural regulations and functions. That’s what diets do!
It’s time to break up with the idea that willpower is the way to weight loss and healthy eating – it’s not. Instead, you need to learn to trust your body.
Here are a 3 ways to trust your body and eat without dieting or relying on willpower:
1. Focus on making Personal, Healthy Choices
Controlling your hunger, eating, and weight is often the result of underlying fear. You may fear that if you give up control, you're going to gain weight. Instead of trying to control your hunger, focus on making a choice instead. Making a choice empowers you to make decisions based on your own best interest. Instead of operating out of fear, now you're thinking rationally about what you want and need! Remember that your dietary needs may change depending on your activity levels, your health status, your age, the season and more. So, assess your personal wants and needs and make your food choices accordingly.
2. Focus on Mindful Eating
Mindful eating will help you make food choices and decide what works best for you - while respecting your body's natural regulation of hunger and satiety. Read my blog on Mindful Eating for ways to adopt eating mindfully.
3. Stop Black & White Thinking
Don’t fall into the trap that you always need to make the best decision (that’s CONTROL). A dieter's mindset is completely black and white - "I can only eat these things", “NO desserts” or "I’m quitting all carbs". This leaves no room for imperfection, which really only sets you up for failure. Instead, treat yourself with compassion. No human being is perfect. It’s okay to choose foods that you enjoy even if they aren’t the most nutrient-dense. Enjoy your food and savour each bite.
When you learn that willpower isn’t the problem, you can start to heal your emotional eating for good! Are you ready to break up with your diet??
Do you ever feel lonely in a crowded room?
Even with people around us, we can all feel lonely at times. Loneliness and being physically alone are two very different things. You can be alone without feeling lonely and you can feel lonely even though you aren’t alone. How? Even if you aren’t physically alone, research has found that perceived isolation can lead to you feeling lonely. Any circumstance in which your social needs aren’t being met can lead to loneliness. You may be feeling disconnected from others due to life changes, lacking intimacy or trust in your current relationships, or not feeling fully supported by your social circle.
When this happens, persistent feelings of loneliness may trigger your emotional eating. This is because emotional eating is a coping mechanism to meet your emotional needs with a physical solution. The problem is this is only a temporary solution. Along with a vicious cycle of turning to food when you’re feeling lonely or sad, you may face health challenges like weight gain or body image issues as a result.
If you struggle with emotional eating, you may not have even realized that you’re lonely. If you have any type of perceived social isolation, it may be triggering your emotional eating. Perceived isolation is different from being physically alone. It could be a result of comparing yourself to others, not being your authentic self when you’re around others, or constantly trying to seek approval from others. In order to heal your emotional eating, you need to address the reason(s) for your loneliness.
So how do you resolve loneliness? Here are 4 ways that can help.
1. Live with Authenticity
Authenticity creates healthy intimacy with others which helps to satisfy your craving to feel accepted and feel like you belong. When you’re being your true authentic self, you can engage in meaningful social interactions rather than feeling lonely despite being around people. To learn more about living with authenticity, read my blog all about it here: (add link).
2. Improve Your Social Skills
Many individuals struggle with social anxiety and as a result, may refrain from creating strong relationships. By improving your interpersonal skills, it will help you communicate with others which is fundamental in building and maintaining close friendships and relationships. You can start by trying to attend more social engagements but if you need more assistance, consider speaking with a qualified practitioner who can support you and give you practical advice for overcoming your anxiety.
3. Join a Support Group
You may feel socially isolated if you’ve gone through something that you feel like others can’t or won’t understand. Whether you have a debilitating chronic illness, are grieving the loss of a loved one, have been abused or are going through a divorce, a support group can help you meet others who share a common experience with you. Meeting others who share similar experiences with you can provide social support and resolve loneliness.
4. Break Negative Thinking
Social isolation may be made worse with negative thought patterns. Projecting negativity can create a self-fulfilling prophesy in which your behaviour may push others away even further making it challenging for you to establish new social connections. If you struggle with poor self-esteem or depression, your negative thinking may be getting in the way of your social life. Realizing negative thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily a reality can help you over negative thought patterns.
Having a strong social support and healthy social life is essential for managing emotional eating. Make sure to nourish your relationships with your time and attention. Spend some time today considering your current social life and ways to deal with loneliness.
These days, we’re more acutely aware of nutrition, diets and portions than ever before. New information is at our finger-tips 24/7 and health professionals, athletes, celebrities and social influencers are all chiming in on diet advice. Everyone is preaching a balanced diet with ‘portion control’ but for emotional eaters, controlling portions can be a huge trigger.
Does following portion sizes leave you feeling hungry, dissatisfied and frustrated?
Do you feel ashamed that you want to eat more?
Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve fallen into the trap of restricting my portions so drastically that I’ve ended up in a week-long binge. This is why I don’t try to ‘portion control’ anymore. However, I am still mindful of portion sizes. The difference is, now I eat mindfully and I’ve learned to trust my body. Because mindful eating is slow and steady. It’s relaxed and enjoyable. There’s little room for overeating when you take the time to enjoy your food and the entire eating experience.
But maybe you’re looking to achieve a healthier weight and manage your emotional eating and so you want to watch your portion sizes. Well, instead of focusing on ‘controlling’ your portions and restricting your food intake too much (which could trigger over- and binge-eating), use this Guide to practice mindful eating with mindful portions:
Start Your Meal with Soup or Salad
Three-course meals aren’t just for special occasions! Starting your meal with a soup or salad increases your fibre and water intake which among many benefits, helps to keep you full and satiated. Personally, I love salads because the sheer volume of them take a while to consume and by the end, I feel like I’ve enjoyed a large portion of food. If you usually end your lunch or dinner and immediately look for a snack, try adding a “starter” soup or salad and see how you feel.
Add More Veggies – Eat the Rainbow!
If you have any picky eaters in your house, you may already be used to hiding veggies in your recipes. But we could all use some more veggies in our diets – especially because they’re high in fibre which helps keep you full and satisfied! Try baking with them (chocolate zucchini muffins, anyone?), mixing them in your fruit smoothies, spiralizing noodles and throwing them into soups, stews and stir-fries. The possibilities are truly endless! When you add more veggies to your meals, you add bulk which means you’re eating more with many nutritious benefits! It’s a win-win.
Presentation is Everything – Pretty Food Tastes Better!
When food is visually appealing, we’re more likely to take time to really notice and appreciate it. And when it looks good, it will taste good too! This appreciation for our meal is what mindful eating is all about. By delighting our senses, we feel more satisfied with our meal. So, even if you’re getting take-out or eating something simple, take a few minutes to display it in a creative way. And it’s not just about the food itself. Use nice dishes, napkins, and serving platters to make your food look pretty!
Start with a Smaller Portion
If you start with a small amount and finish it (and are still hungry), you can always go back for more! But if you start with a large portion and eat it too quickly, you’ve already overeaten before your body can send the signals telling your brain that you’re full. The key here is to start with a smaller portion while eating S-L-O-W-L-Y. When you slow down, you are able to engage all your senses which increases satiety. And this is how you will learn to trust your body. Because when you eat slowly, you give your body a chance to tell you exactly when it’s satisfied. Over time, with slow mindful eating, you will naturally learn which portions are right for you!
Do you like yourself?
Are you happy with who you are?
Do you feel confident, secure and happy with yourself?
Take a moment to answer these questions honestly.
Some people seem to ooze confidence right from birth, but for the rest of us, it can be a challenge. Add in societal pressures to look, eat, and live a certain way, and it’s easy to see why so many individuals struggle with confidence and liking themselves.
If you struggle with emotional eating, there’s likely years of insecurities concerning your body, appearance and self. And it’s easy to see how these emotional eating and body image are closely linked. But what people often get wrong is thinking that you need to change the way you look before you can feel good about yourself. The truth is, learning to like yourself isn’t just about liking your appearance. It’s about building your self-esteem (regardless of what you look like) through self-acceptance. If you want to heal your relationship with food, I suggest learning to like yourself now!
When you learn to love yourself, your food challenges will quickly fade away for good. Now I’m not saying that loving yourself is easy – it’s definitely hard! But fortunately, liking yourself is a skill that you can develop and learn.
Liking yourself is really about building your self-esteem, which comes from accepting yourself as you are – not who you might be. This doesn’t mean you never criticize yourself again or refuse to change, but that you learn to accept your flaws and take the good with the bad, so to speak.
Here are 5 ways to do just that.
1. Embrace Your Strengths
We tend to focus more on our flaws and weaknesses, but we should really relish in our strengths and accomplishments too! Make a list of all your strengths and put it somewhere you’ll see often. Include physical attributes you like about yourself, personality traits and quirks you have, accomplishments and skills. If you’re struggling to come up with a list, ask your loved ones to help you out.
2. Surround Yourself with Empowering People
Do you notice your energy shift when you’re with certain people? Especially when it comes to emotional eating, dieting and body image, the people we spend time with can either be our greatest weakness or our greatest asset. Start to notice if the people you spend time with talk about themselves in a more positive or negative way. Do you talk about their insecurities or do they speak encouraging words? Surround yourself with empowering individuals who speak about themselves in a respectful and loving way. When you spend time with others who like themselves, it can empower you to start talking to and treating yourself better too.
3. Spend Time Alone
You may not have a full grasp of who you truly are and if you don’t know who you are, how can you like yourself? Spending time alone can give you a better understanding of your feelings, your abilities, your passions and interests. You will learn about who you are and this builds self-confidence.
4. Accept that No One is Perfect
I know when I compare myself to others, I’m usually focusing on their positive attributes where I feel I don’t measure up. (That’s why it’s a good idea to try to avoid compare yourself to others). But even if you do end up comparing yourself to others from time to time, it can be helpful to remind yourself that no one is perfect. Not you, not that celebrity on the magazine cover, no one. And that’s okay. Our flaws make us human, who we are.
5. Treat yourself like someone you love
How do you treat the people you love? With harsh words? Criticisms? Not paying attention to them? No! In order to start liking yourself better, start treating yourself better! How do you show people you love them? With affection? Quality time? Words of affirmation? We all have a love language we use to communicate our love to others. But direct that love language to yourself too! Whether it’s carving out daily time for self care, reading positive affirmations out loud or simply spending more time with yourself, when you treat yourself like someone you love, you’re bound to start liking that person more – I’m talking about you!
If you want to be happy with who you are and build self-esteem and body confidence, try treating yourself better and learning to like yourself a little more! What other ways can you think of to like yourself a little more?
Emotional eaters often use food as a way to meet their emotional needs. But while food can feed our bodies, it can’t feed our soul. The ultimate way to stop emotional eating is to “feed” our emotions with exactly what they want and need (Hint: it’s not food!). Food for our soul isn’t food at all and when we discover how to nourish our hearts and souls, we won’t have to use food for comfort.
So, what exactly do we mean when we say “nourish our soul”?
Nourishment can be defined as substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. When we feel nourished we feel satisfied, whole, sustained, nurtured, happy and healthy. So, if we’re not talking about food, what nourishes you?
Nourishment for the soul might look different for each person – you need to discover what nourishes you! And when you do, you won’t need to turn to food for comfort because your soul will feel full and nourished already.
In discovering how to nourish your soul and “feed” your emotions with what they really want, here are 6 Ways You Can Feed Your Soul:
1. Be Still
While you may interpret this in the physical sense of not moving and resting, being still also refers to calming our minds. A great way to be still in both a physical and mental sense is through meditation. Mindful meditation brings us into the present moment where we can let go of worry, anxious thoughts and negative emotions. This has an amazing calming effect that nourishes our souls and balances out our hectic lives.
2. Help Others
Do you remember how you felt the last time you did something good for others? A recent study from Columbia University revealed that when helping others navigate their stressful situations, we are improving our own emotion regulation skills, and therefore, benefiting our own emotional well-being. Consider lending a listening ear to a friend or family member, going out of your way to do something nice for them, or even volunteering for a cause you really care about.
3. Spend Time in Nature
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, helps to reduce anger, fear, stress and makes us feel good. Short-term studies have shown that exposure to green space and nature immediately reduces physiological markers of stress. Other benefits include encouraging an active lifestyle, breathing in fresh air, restoring mental energy and inspiring creativity.
4. Immerse Yourself in Music
Music truly feeds our souls. A song can comfort, energize, motivate, or inspire us! Whether you enjoy classical music, pop or rock, music helps us to express whatever we are feeling and nourishes us in a unique way. The next time you’re feeling stressed, try listening to some music you enjoy and notice how it affects you.
Play and fun are usually the first to go when we get busy. But scheduling fun things into our days and weeks helps to nourish and balance us mentally, emotionally and physically. Bust stress and nourish your soul by scheduling fun into your calendar now! This could mean riding your bike, going to a show, catching up with friends, or spending time with your kids.
6. Keep Dreaming
It’s so important to have goals and dreams! When we have something to look forward to, we feel inspired, motivated and fulfilled. Without a dream, where are we headed? Whether it’s related to your career or personal journey, wanting to achieve something brings enthusiasm and excitement into our lives. Pursuing our dreams is a great way to nourish our hearts and souls by giving us something to look forward to.
When we nourish ourselves mentally and emotionally, we feel full rather than empty. And that is exactly what emotional eaters are looking! These are just 6 of many ways to nourish your soul - can you think of other ways to “feed” your soul instead of turning to food?
Have you ever been calm, cool and collected one moment only to swing into full anger, outrage, or panic the next? Literally within seconds our emotions can change. Whether it’s something hurtful someone says to you, a crisis at work, or some other type of disaster, we can suddenly be filled with an intense, negative emotion.
For emotional eaters, this moment is critical. Out of habit, we look for something comforting like food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suddenly felt upset and my first action is to go get some candy or chocolate to feel better. But unfortunately, using food for comfort is a temporary fix, not a lasting solution. After we’ve “eaten our feelings”, those intense emotions are still lingering and we probably don’t feel any better. Instead of turning to food as a reaction to our strong emotions, we need to learn to manage those emotions in the moment.
Here are some tips to help you manage strong emotions in the moment – so that you don’t have to reach for food.
Stressful events trigger our fight or flight response which heightens anxiety and our emotions. We can turn our fight or flight response off by taking several slow, deep breaths. Lengthen both your inhales and exhales for several breaths. This can help to calm you down physically which may stop you for impulsively reacting (i.e. reaching for food).
2. Bring Focus to Your Body
Many individuals find vigorous physical activity to be a great way to deal with strong emotions. But in the moment, it may not be possible to drop everything and go for a run or hit up a kickboxing class. Instead, take a moment to feel your body. If you’re sitting in a chair, notice how your body feels in the chair. If you’re standing, bring awareness to your body sensations in that moment. This helps to bring focus into the present moment, instead of getting caught up with your emotions.
3. Be Mindful
Practicing mindfulness trains our brains to stay in the moment rather than focusing on the past or worrying about the future. When you’re overcome with a strong emotion, take a moment to notice your surrounds. Walk to a window and take a look outside. Notice your sensations – what do you smell, hear, or see? By practicing mindfulness, you can slow down instead of getting caught up in your emotions.
To learn more about being mindful, check out my FREE mindfulness meditation exercise.
4. Repeat a Mantra or Positive Self-Talk
A proven technique, repeating a mantra such as “It’s okay to be upset”, “this too shall pass”, “everything happens for a reason” or “I am comfortable with the uncomfortable” can help to calm you down. Alternatively, have an inner dialogue where you explore the storyline behind your emotion. When you’re experiencing an intense emotion, try to discover the root cause of that emotion. Perhaps a stressful event triggers thoughts such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not valued” or “I’m a failure”. Noticing these negative thought patterns is the first step to reversing negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Ultimately, if we can reply on more positive self-talk, when faced with intense emotions in the moment, we’re more likely to manage those emotions without turning to food or over-reacting.
When strong emotions hit, it’s okay to take some time to process them. There’s nothing wrong with feeling deeply or intensely. But if strong emotions feel overwhelming or trigger emotional eating, try these tips to manage those emotions in the moment.
When you think of the term “self-care”, what comes to mind?
Getting your nails done?
While all of these are activities that may be a part of your self-care routine, self-care is more than just pampering yourself. In fact, self-care should be a daily practice. Self-care is not something that you do once in a while because you are overly stressed or burned out, true self-care are things that you do all of the time.
Self-care is one of the pillars of managing and healing emotional eating. So, if you struggle with emotional eating – you would definitely benefit from regular self-care. Emotional eating is a temporary fix. If you feel bad, maybe cookies will make you feel better, right? But only for a moment. So instead of turning to food, we need to learn how to comfort ourselves in a healthier way. In comes self-care! By practicing daily activities that make us feel good, we are more likely to turn to these practices to provide us with love and comfort.
But what can we do daily for self-care? Well, essentially any activity we do deliberately to take care of our emotional, mental and physical health is self-care! Popular self-care activities that individuals may practice daily include meditation, yoga, journaling, movement and rest. But another daily practice I’d like you to consider is cooking! I believe that cooking your food is also a form of daily self-care.
For some people, cooking can be therapeutic and a creative outlet that they enjoy. For others, cooking can be a chore, tedious, annoying and even a source of stress! But even if cooking isn’t your cup of tea, it can still be a form of self-care. I used to hate cooking and honestly, sometimes I still don’t always enjoy it. Life gets busy and it’s much easier to grab something fast and convenient. Haven’t you found yourself in the same situation?
But the actual goal of self-care is to maximize our health and well-being. Not only our physical health, but our emotional and mental health too. By putting our energy into creating something that we consume, we are nourishing ourselves physically and emotionally. Cooking and preparing our food is a way to show our bodies that we care. And when we feel loved, well-balanced, and cared for, we are less likely to binge or overeat.
Self-care is my greatest motivation for cooking, preparing and enjoying my food. Whenever I’m not in the mood for taking the time to cook, I remind myself that I am taking care of myself and showing myself some much-needed self-love by cooking and preparing food that will nourish me.
The more I view cooking as a self-care practice, the more I enjoy it!
If you’re still wary of making cooking a part of your self-care (and actually enjoying it), here are some suggestions you could try:
· Go to a Farmer’s Market once a week and pick something new to cook
· Practice gratitude while you prepare your food – acknowledging your health, accessibility to food, ability to taste, etc.
· Treat yourself to a new recipe book or swap recipes with a friend
· Take a cooking class
· Practice mindfulness and pay attention to the sight, smell and taste of each ingredient while preparing your food
Cooking your own food is a great way to show yourself your love, appreciation, and respect. The next time you eat, remember that your food is nourishing you – not only physically, but emotionally too.
So, will you embrace cooking as a form of self-care? Are you ready to show yourself more love?
Stress eating is a common problem with emotional eaters. Maybe it’s been one thing after another at work, you’ve been working long hours, or everything seems to be going wrong. This chronic stress can leave you feeling depleted of all energy, overwhelmed, annoyed and on edge. It’s likely that in this scenario, an emotional eater is going to comfort themselves with food. Because when you’re stressed out, you crave comfort. And for most people, that means a bag of chips, chocolate, pasta or pizza.
Unfortunately, stress eating and eating for comfort can lead to out-of-control binges because we’re in an emotional state and not eating mindfully. When we repeatedly stress eat – due to all the chronic stress in our lives – this can lead to binge eating disorder, weight gain and yo-yo dieting.
To manage stress eating, we need to realize what is the root cause of this behaviour. It’s not the food itself, but the stress! Beyond stress eating, there’s a multitude of reasons why we should try and manage our stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can cause anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as lead to changes to our eating behaviour such as overeating.
If you are looking for ways to manage emotional and stress eating, I’d encourage you to take steps to try and reduce your stress. While some stress is necessary and unavoidable (especially when it comes to work and family), the approach I have found most helpful is to make sure I incorporate activities that are relaxing and enjoyable into my schedule. This is all part of my self-care routine. And one way I love to relax?
Did you know that research shows reading is the best way to relax, and even six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels?
Research published in 2009 by the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by 68 percent! Reading was found to work better and faster than other methods such as listening to music, going for a walk or sipping on a cup of tea. Psychologists attribute this benefit to the fact that we need to concentrate when we read which helps to ease tension in our bodies.
More surprising, was that the researchers found only 6 minutes of reading is enough to relax you and ease tension!
Incorporating Reading into Your Self Care
Maybe you’re not an active reader? Well the good news is that it really doesn’t matter what type of reading you’re doing. Whether you’re diving into a mystery, biography, or poetry, you are stimulating your creativity and reducing stress.
Here are some suggestions for adding more reading for relaxation into your routine:
1. Make a goal to create a habit
Maybe you make a goal to read for 10 minutes every night this week – and see what happens! Or tack it on to another activity. Having a hot bath? Take a book with you to really treat yourself.
2. Share with others
I love getting book recommendations from others and so I like to pay it forward too. Once I’m done with a book, I swap with a friend.
3. Listen to your books
If you’re really not a reader, maybe you’d prefer to listen to audiobooks instead. Just make sure you listen without any distractions to reap the same benefits.
4. Join a book club
Not only does this give you some accountability to make sure you’ve actually read, but it’s a great way to socialize, built community and new friendships.
So, what books will be on your reading list this summer?
Do you avoid eating in front of other people?
Do you eat small portions in front of others, but over-indulge when you’re alone?
Do you hide certain foods that you eat from others?
While not openly talked about very often, there are many individuals who struggle with closet eating – a type of disordered eating where individuals avoid eating in public or in front of others. This disordered eating may be a result of individuals who are uncomfortable with eating in front of others, because they feel ashamed of their weight, how they look, or feel guilty for their appetite and food choices. I have struggled with closet eating myself, especially when I was uncomfortable with my body and weight. I have found that following strict diets triggers me to eat very strict meals in front of others and then secretly binge on sweets when I’m alone.
Not sure if you’ve experienced closet eating? Here are some tell-tale signs:
· You have hidden food in your house
· You have binged at unconventional times (right after meals, middle of the night, etc)
· You tend to take small portions at meals but eat leftovers or large helpings afterward
· You often overeat or binge when you’re alone
In private, closet eaters secretly binge – whether right after sharing a meal with others or raiding the fridge at midnight. Unfortunately, this pattern of bingeing, overeating and eating erratically may cause weight gain and cause you to feel out of control and helpless.
But there is hope!
Here are some helpful tips to manage and minimize closet eating:
1. Stop Dieting
As I mentioned, I find dieting for myself, and many others, a trigger for binge eating. Instead of restricting your food choices, focus on mindful eating. My general rule of thumb is to eat 70-80% foods that I know nourish me, provide me with sustaining energy and nutrients that I need to thrive. The other 20-30% is for foods that I absolutely love and enjoy simply because of their taste. Following this form of eating (versus following a restricted diet) is realistic, sustainable and best of all, empowering!
2. Positive self-talk
If you find you are uncomfortable with eating in front of others because you are self-conscious about your weight, try some positive self-talk! Gently remind yourself that you need to eat and you’re not a bad person if you eat some “junk food”. Also, people may judge you and that’s okay. You have no control over other people’s thoughts or actions. But you DO have control over your own! Repeating positive affirmations right before you eat or while you eat may be helpful in overcoming your fear of eating in front of others.
3. Know Your Trigger Foods
There are certain foods I tend to keep out of the house because I know I will likely binge on them. Instead of having tubs of ice cream, chocolate, chips and cake at home, if I want a treat, I go out for an ice cream with my kids and enjoy the experience. Or I have dessert when I go out for dinner. This way, I am able to enjoy the yummy foods I really like without triggering a binge which may happen if I have a whole tub of ice cream or box of cookies at home.
4. Ask for Help
If you’re still struggling with binge or closet eating after trying the above suggestions, please ask for help! Often there are feelings we need to process and thought patterns and behaviours we need to dive into in order to heal emotional eating. Speaking with a registered psychotherapist can help guide you through this process.
At the root of closet eating is feeling guilt and shame over food and your eating habits. By following these tips, I hope you’re able to eliminate that shame and experience a positive and nourishing relationship with food instead!
When faced with adversity in life, how do you cope? Do you bounce back from difficult times or do you seem to get stuck? Do you see stress as a major setback or an opportunity to grow?
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties; to adapt and respond positively to stress. When faced with a tragedy, scare or problem, resilience is how well a person can adapt to the events in their life. A person with good resilience has the ability to bounce back more quickly and with less stress than someone whose resilience is less developed.
Everybody has resilience. It’s just a question of how much and how well you use it. Resilience doesn’t mean you don’t experience any pain or negative emotions as a result of the problem or trauma. Instead, it means you have developed the skills to deal with it quickly. For emotional eaters, cultivating resilience can be life-changing in healing emotional eating for good! If you have built your resilience, you are less likely to get stuck and turn to emotional eating for comfort when faced with adversity.
Everyone can build their resiliency. Like any skill, learning greater resilience comes with practice. Here are some ways to help build your resilience:
1. Physical Activity
Physical exertion helps to counteract the effects of stress. Exercise can elevate our mood and increase motivation which gives us a more positive mindset. Feeling physically strong can help us feel mentally tough, too!
2. Social Connection
Relationships provide us with a support system. By having strong relationships, we have a strong support system we can rely on when things get tough. Knowing others have our backs can keep us positive and resilient against stress.
3. Practicing Mindfulness
A study published in Journal of Personality and Individual Differences highlighted a link between mindfulness and resilience. The study found that mindful people can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down emotionally. Practicing mindfulness means acknowledging our feelings without judgment.
When life is difficult, it’s easy for us to be overly critical and hard on ourselves. But compassion, not criticism, facilitates greater resiliency. When things go wrong, try practicing self-care to show yourself love and compassion instead of beating yourself up.
Studies have shown that spiritual well-being and resilience are interrelated. Having a sense of meaning and purpose in life enables individuals to better deal with trauma. Being more spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean being more religious. Spirituality refers to the belief that you belong to something greater. Cultivate spirituality by meditating, practicing mindfulness, developing a personal belief system, volunteering for charity, and working towards understanding your own higher purpose.
Some people are naturally more resilient than others. These individuals tend to see challenges as opportunities, are able to maintain a positive outlook, and find meaning in the struggle. For others, it will take time, effort and commitment to build resilience and learn to have a more positive outlook. But that effort is totally worth it!
When you're resilient, adversity doesn’t get you down physically, emotionally, or psychologically – at least not for long!
The benefits of mindful eating are no secret! Studies have shown that mindful eating can help minimize overeating and binge eating, manage weight, and ease anxious thoughts about food and your body. To learn about the basics of mindful eating, check out my blog Mindful Eating: 3 Simple Steps for Emotional Eaters
While mindful eating sounds great, it may be a big lifestyle change for you to start practicing, and any behaviour change is easier said than done. So, to get you started, I’ve come up with 4 practical tips for mindful eating that you can start today! Whether you’ve heard of mindful eating before and have been wanting to give it a try, or are just learning about it now, these tips are for you!
1. Meal Planning
Having regularly planned meals is so important to keep us energized and satiated which helps to prevent binge and overeating! When we don’t have a plan, our busy schedules may lead to skipping meals, mindlessly snacking throughout the day, or overeating at night. When we have even a loose plan for when and what we’ll eat each day, we’re less likely to overeat and binge since we’ve managed to nourish ourselves properly throughout the day.
2. Meal Prepping
If you’re able to prioritize planning your meals, you may find it helpful to meal prep too! While not for everyone, meal prepping is a great way to ensure you’re eating well-balanced meals each day. Instead of reaching for a frozen pizza or cookies when you get home because you’re starving, having something in the fridge or slow cooker that’s prepped and ready to go can help keep you on track and nourish your body the way it deserves. Meal prepping can be as simple as doing all your groceries on the weekend, or as intricate as cooking ahead of time and dividing the food into individual portions for the week. You decide what works best for you!
3. Eat without Your Electronics
We’re all glued to our smartphones and tablets at every hour of the day, but unfortunately, this can be a distraction during our meals and inhibit us from eating mindfully. If you’re often checking your phone during lunch, try putting it away for at least 15 minutes so that you can have a distraction-free meal. By removing our electronics, we can focus all of our attention to our food and eating experience. This is what mindful eating is all about! Being present and enjoying all the great sensations of food. When we’re glued to our phones, we’re not able to pay attention to how our food looks, smells, tastes and feels. When we do pay attention to these things, we are tuning into our bodies and listening to our hunger and satiety cues. This ultimately is what prevents us from overeating.
4. Set a Timer
Mindful eating is the opposite of binge/overeating. While binge eating is characterized by eating fast, uncontrolled and absent-mindedly, mindful eating is slow and present. To practice mindful eating means to slow down! A practical way to slow down is to set a timer for one of your meals. If you tend to eat your lunch in 10 minutes or less, try setting a timer for 15 minutes and stretch out your meal. During this time, pay attention to your food and all the sensations you miss when you eat too quickly! Over time, try to make your meals a bit longer (in 5-minute increments) until it becomes intuitive to eat slowly.
If you struggle with emotional eating, remind yourself that diets don’t work! Instead, focus on mindful eating which may be key in tackling your eating challenges. Stay tuned for more practical tips!
We’re all familiar with that voice in our head telling us we aren’t good enough and undermining our confidence and self-esteem. Whether it’s when you look in the mirror or going to try something new, that voice might be the first thing that speaks to you, whispering doubt and fear into your thoughts. Well, that’s your inner critic.
Critical Inner Voice
We all possess an inner critic or critical inner voice. This voice is a negative internal dialogue inside your head. Common thoughts that come from our inner critic include:
"There's something wrong with you."
"She looks way better than you."
“You’ll never be good enough.”
Sound familiar? While everyone has this inner voice, yours may be getting louder and maybe it has taken over your thoughts and affected your behaviour. If you struggle with emotional eating and body image, chances are you’re listening and believing everything your inner critic is saying. The good news is that we can overcome and quiet our inner critic and free ourselves from constant negativity. The way to quiet our inner critic is with self-compassion.
Think of how easy it is to be kind to the people we care about in our lives. We let them know it’s okay to be human when they fail. We reassure them of our support when they’re feeling bad about themselves. We comfort them when they’re going through hard times. Most of us are really good at being understanding, kind, and compassionate towards others. But how many of us offer that kind of compassion to ourselves?
When our inner voice hounds us with criticism and negative thoughts we end up feeling worthless, incompetent and insecure. This may lead to negative cycles of self sabotage such as emotional eating. However, when our inner voice plays the role of a supportive friend, we can feel safe and accepted enough to get perspective and make inner or outer changes for us to be happy.
Self-compassion refers to being caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of being harsh and cold, self-compassion is soothing and offers comfort to your self. Self-compassion also involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects our flaws with the human experience which gives us greater perspective of our personal shortcomings and struggles.
To quiet your inner critic, try to re-frame the observations made by your inner critic in a friendly, positive way. If you’re having trouble thinking of what words to use, think of how you would speak to a friend (compassionately) about the same thing.
For example, if you just ate an entire box of cookies and then start beating yourself up and your inner critic hounds you with criticism, here’s how you may respond with self-compassion. You may say something like “I know you ate that box of cookies because you’re feeling really sad right now and you thought it would cheer you up. But you feel even worse and are not feeling good in your body. I want you to feel better, so why don’t you go for a walk and then take a hot bath?” When you practice supportive self-talk and start acting kindly and with compassion, you will start to feel truly nurtured and cared for!
Creating and practicing a self-compassion mindset is how we can slowly and gently quiet our inner critic. Because compassion should be extended towards ourselves and not just to others! We all make mistakes and no one is perfect. If we put this into perspective, we don’t have to listen to our inner critic and believe everything it says. So, the next time you hear your inner critic, instead of believing it and letting it affect you negatively, thank your inner critic for its efforts, then try the strategy of giving yourself some compassion instead.
Do you often find yourself pretending to agree with everyone? Apologizing often? Do you find it hard to say no? Do you feel responsible for how other people feel? If the answer to these questions is YES, then you’re probably a people pleaser.
While it’s completely normal to be conscious of how your behaviour affects others, denying your own needs for the sake of others isn’t. This can lead to people taking advantage of you, feeling burnt out, miserable and may trigger emotional eating. People-pleasing can be a serious problem, and it’s a hard habit to break.
Often this behaviour is hard to unlearn because it’s reinforced from such a young age. When we make others happy, we receive approval and conditional love from them. This pattern of behaviour teaches us to seek validation from others by making them happy even if it’s at the price of neglecting our own needs. But when we deny our own needs just to people-please, we sacrifice self-care, self-respect and self-love. It is so important to set boundaries as a form of self-care.
Especially for individuals who struggle with emotional eating, being a people pleaser denies yourself the healthy boundaries and self-care that you need and deserve. To heal emotional eating, you need to learn to meet your emotional needs with proper self-care – instead of with food. So, are you ready to stop being a people pleaser?
Here are 3 simple steps to stop the cycle of people pleasing:
1. Check in with your gut
Check in to see how YOU feel. Listen to your gut feelings instead of focusing on what you think the other person will say. Before saying “yes” to that next commitment, ask yourself the following: Do I want to do this? Will this benefit me in a way that I’m looking for? Do I have the time for this? Will this add to my stress? Listen to your own voice and trust your gut to decide if you should say “yes” or “no”.
For many of us, the word “sorry” has become something we reactively say, regardless of whether we’ve done anything wrong. Often, we are using it as a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Before automatically apologizing, ask yourself: Did I actually do something wrong? Did I really want to communicate that I think I did something wrong?
Check in with your true feelings before automatically apologizing, taking the blame, or agreeing to do something you don’t really want to commit to.
2. Plan your response
If someone asks you for something, stall and tell them that you’ll think about it instead of automatically saying yes. This allows you time to check in with your gut feelings. If your gut is telling you that this is a commitment you’re unable to make, then the next step is to plan your response. Write out what you would ideally like to say to the person and start practicing saying it out loud. The more you practice your response out loud, the more confident you will feel and sound. If you’re afraid of expressing your feelings to others, this is a great way to practice and build up your confidence!
3. Practice with Others
Breaking any cycle takes time and requires practice. Start slow and with safe people – pick one person that seems less scary to express to. When the opportunity arises, practice voicing your honest opinion, saying no when you need to, and prioritizing your needs before trying to please others. While this may seem overwhelming to you, take small baby steps and start off with one person until you build more confidence. Remember to persevere and celebrate your progress!
If you still find you’re struggling with unlearning your people-pleasing behaviour, remember that you’re not responsible for other people’s feelings. You actually don’t have the power to make others happy – but you are responsible for yourself. For YOUR happiness and YOUR well-being. So, take care of yourself first! And if you need further guidance, speak to a qualified therapist who can help you take small steps toward change. When you learn to break the cycle of people pleasing, you will be able to prioritize self-care, set healthy boundaries and take control of your emotional well-being.
So many of us live in fear of changes to our bodies; especially changes that we perceive as negative such as weight gain, changing body shape, and declining health which may lead to chronic illness or disease. This fear leads us to try and control our bodies through diet and exercise. We may think that if we just follow a diet exactly, we’ll lose weight and be healthy. And this isn’t really our fault, we’ve been led to believe that eating the perfect diet is the key to optimal health. But the truth is, there is no perfect diet, no one-size-fits-all. The perfect diet doesn’t exist because are lives are constantly changing and as a result, our nutritional needs change as well.
Consider these following factors as they may affect our nutritional needs:
How you eat now is extremely different from what you ate when you were a baby. Newborns reply solely on breast milk or formula to thrive and grow. Then, as children grow, they require different nutrients and so new foods are introduced. Nutritional needs change through adulthood as well. Therefore, we can’t have one perfect diet because we have different nutritional needs over time.
Some individuals work at a desk all day while others do manual labour. Some people train for competitive sports on a daily basis while others prefer more leisurely activities. Based on these differences, your lifestyle will depict your nutritional needs. It’s silly to compare what you eat to someone who has a completely different lifestyle than you, yet haven’t you ever caught yourself doing just that?
Have you ever noticed you prefer certain foods at different times of the year? Maybe you prefer more salads and fresh fruit in the summer time while in the winter, you tend to choose more heartier meals. This is actually completely normal! Environmental temperatures affect our body temperatures which may influence our preference for hot or cold foods, amount of liquids, portions, etc.
How and what we eat is an ongoing process of learning and discovery. With age, lifestyle and season, our nutritional needs will change. Instead of fearing change, we should embrace it! We need to learn to let go of the perfect diet. If you struggle with emotional eating, this can be pivotal in improving your relationship with food. Instead of focusing on following a “perfect diet”, here’s how to change your relationship with food for the better:
1. Be adventurous
Instead of worrying about the nutritional value of every food you eat, be adventurous and try new foods just for the experience. You’re bound to discover a few new foods that you enjoy. You know what they say, variety is the spice of life!
2. Eat mindfully
Enjoy your food by eating mindfully! Pay attention to all your senses when you eat to have an amazing food experience. Food is supposed to be a pleasurable thing – as long as it’s done in a healthy way. While overeating and binge eating is driven by emotions, stress and feels out of control, mindful eating is slow, takes place in the present moment and brings awareness to our body. Instead of trying to follow a perfect diet, make sure to eat your favourite meals or foods – just as long as you eat mindfully! Savour each bite and have a great food experience.
3. Listen to your hunger cues
Our society is obsessed with numbers so you may feel like you need to focus on numbers when it comes to food. Ditch the scale and calorie counting and instead, rely on your internal hunger cues. This means, paying attention to hunger pangs and also how you feel when you eat. Are you still hungry? Help yourself to another serving! Feeling full? Save the rest for later. Remember to eat slowly and mindfully to give your body time to send the signals to your brain when you’re satisfied. This helps to prevent overeating.
4. Honour your food preferences
One of the major flaws with fad diets and meal plans is that they don’t take into account individual preferences. While some people love carrots, other people hate them! Honour your food preferences and choose foods you like and make you feel good. Just remember that feeling good means your body is full of energy and you feel alert after eating instead of feeling sluggish and tired.
While you may have convinced yourself that following a perfect diet is the key to optimal health and happiness, the take away is that the perfect diet doesn’t exist! Instead of focusing on following a perfect diet, consider what your individual needs are. Check out my previous blog on Mindful Eating to learn how to listen to your hunger cues and eat mindfully.
And while you at it, check out my Mindful Eating Exercise - a useful tool from my Free Emotional Eating Toolkit - to help get you started!
When you honour your body by eating food you enjoy and savouring each bite, you are healing your relationship with food and with your body. So, are you ready to ditch dieting for good?!
Emotions can be intense, overwhelming and triggering. To be honest, they can be downright uncomfortable! So, when we’re overcome with emotions like anger, fear or sadness, it’s no wonder many of us turn to food for comfort. But emotional eating is only a temporary fix to escape from those uncomfortable emotions and it prevents us from learning how to handle our emotions.
While it may seem easier to turn to cookies and chips to console us of our intense emotions, it keeps us stuck in a vicious cycle of uncomfortable emotions and emotional eating. Instead, if we expand our emotional intelligence and learn how to deal with our emotions (instead of run from them) we can keep emotional eating at bay. Luckily, there are tools to help us learn how to deal with reactive emotions in a healthy way! One such practice is super simple – just by naming the emotion you’re feeling, helps to tame it.
Do you ever find that when you’re upset, you need to talk about it? You may re-hash the upsetting situation to a co-worker, your partner, or friend. Many of us like to call this “venting”. Well, when we’re venting about something that’s upsetting us, what we’re doing is putting our feelings into words. Researchers call this “affect labeling” which they believe helps manage negative emotional experiences. Studies have shown that affect labeling may diminish emotional reactivity in the brain. This means, by simply identifying and stating the negative emotion you’re experiencing, you can get some distance from it and as a result, you may not continue to feel it so intensely.
Practicing affect labeling requires you to practice mindfulness – you can only identify the emotion you’re feeling at that time by allowing yourself to take a pause, be present, and self-aware in that moment. If you can notice that you’re reacting to the situation at hand, and acknowledge and name the emotion that you’re experiencing – you’ve can actually disengage from the emotion itself. This disengagement helps to tame the emotion and you will no longer feel it as intensely. Instead of getting lost in a sea of emotions, you can identify the emotion which is the first step in handling it. Once you’ve paused and identified the emotion, perhaps you can connect deeper with why you are feeling this way. But regardless, the first step is to learn to pause and name that emotion.
Here’s a list of some intense/uncomfortable emotions:
ANXIOUS FRUSTRATED LONELY
ASHAMED FOOLISH ABANDONED
AFRAID HURT OFFENDED
HUMILIATED NERVOUS VULNERABLE
HELPLESS RESENTFUL ISOLATED
EMBARRASSED ANNOYED SELF-CONSCIOUS
SAD CONFUSED JEALOUS
ANGRY BETRAYED THREATENED
Instead of saying, “I’m upset”, are you able to say, “I’m feeling ______” and fill in the blank with one of these words?
It may take practice but by getting specific, it will become easier over time to identify and label the emotion you are experiencing. Feel free to refer to this list or use an Emotions Word Bank online until you become familiar with their names and are able to label which emotion you are experience. With practice, you will become more mindful and emotionally intelligent which is key in managing emotional eating!
Remember that changing behaviour isn’t easy – you’ve coped with emotions in a certain way for a long time. Change comes with lots of practice! So, practice this affect labeling whenever you can. The true practice is becoming more mindful and aware of the emotions you’re experiencing. Once you are aware, it’s easy to name it. From there, you will have some distance to it and you’ll be better equipped to respond versus react.
In the coming days, when you find yourself experiencing intense emotions, pause before doing anything (like turning to food) and mindfully encourage yourself to attach words to your experience. This simple tool can make such a difference in handling your emotions in a healthy way!