Spoiler alert: Emotional eating is not about crying into your bowl of spaghetti.
Let's talk emotional eating
You've probably heard of the term "emotional eater" before, but what does that really mean?
People (who come to me for help changing their diet) tell me all the time, “I’m not an emotional eater,” but shortly after we start working together, they realize they actually might be.
Most people THINK that emotional eating means feeling sad and drowning their sorrow in a bowl of ice cream on purpose.
And no, you’re probably not doing that on a regular basis.
But, what if that's not really what we mean by "emotional eating?"
Let’s take a look at emotional eating in a couple different ways:
First - sometimes our food choices are driven by wanting to STOP an emotion.
When our feelings feel too big; when we don’t want the negative sensation in our body - eating will help calm it. And sometimes we calm it before we’ve even acknowledged that it’s there. We’re on autopilot, programmed to go suddenly decide to get a snack.
And food quiets emotions in two ways:
1. All emotions are vibrations in the body - when we eat, we muffle the vibrations and feel less of the emotion.
2. When we eat, our brain produces feel-good hormones that help us relax in the moment.
So, at least momentarily, we feel better.
Second - sometimes our food choices are driven by wanting to PREVENT an emotion.
In this case, emotional eating is not about what you’re feeling when you eat chips and salsa for lunch; emotional eating is about what you feel when you WANT the chips and salsa, but you DON’T eat it.
The initial feeling that drives our choices is desire. And when we don’t indulge our desire, other emotions come up - deprivation, lack, dissatisfaction. Wanting to avoid those feelings is a key reason why making healthy choices doesn’t feel good or easy in the moment.
Logically, you know it’s better for you. Logically, you know you’ll be fine.
But emotionally?? That’s another story because we are programmed to crave foods high in sugar and added fat. And when you don’t choose them, your brain literally thinks you just reduced your likelihood of survival.
Putting an end to emotional eating
It's 100% possible to make the shift away from emotional eating. And it boils down to a couple key points:
1. Know that you can feel all those feelings - the stress, the doubt, the deprivation, the FOMO and be totally fine. If you allow those emotions, feel them and don't try to change them, they will pass!
2. Change your desire so that making healthy choices gets easier over time. This takes a little willpower at first, but once you recognize how much better healthy foods feel in your body, it's easier to choose them without feeling uncomfortable emotions.
Emotions are powerful, but you can make them work FOR you!
For me - sticking with healthy choices is hardest when we are on the road. Below is a picture of a salad I ordered when I realllllly wanted a burger on our trip home from Rochester. All the desire and FOMO and doubt showed up for a minute, but I was able to acknowledge them, let them pass, and go with the salad. And I felt much more comfortable on the rest of the ride home than I would have if I’d eaten a burger and fries.
(Sorry, Red Robin, I forgot to take a picture until after I had mixed up your beautiful presentation 🙂
I'd love to hear from you!
Leave me a comment - when is it hardest to stick with healthy choices??