When was the last time you ate something? Was it because you were hungry…. or maybe you were really stressed and just reached for whatever was handy, without even thinking about your level of hunger?
Maybe, (if you’re anything like me), you’re trying to juggle a hundred things at once…. and just sometimes, (when you’re really distracted by everyone else’s priorities), you eat to soothe, comfort, distract, or even reward yourself?
If this is the case, it’s possible that you could be an emotional eater…. someone who uses food to regulate the way they feel…. or someone who eats in response to how they feel.
Emotional eating can present itself in a variety of ways, but there are some more common reasons that so many women fall into the trap.
Here’s some simple strategies for stamping out the destructive cycle!
Feeling Down & Want to Feel Better?
Do you find yourself reaching for your favourite comfort food when you’re feeling low, bad or emotionally depleted? Are you reaching for ‘edible comfort’ as an instantly gratifying way of easing or elevating your mood? If you answered ‘yes’, then this is a classic emotional eating response!
Try This Instead:
Before you grab that morsel of ‘edible comfort’, just pause and ask yourself what your ‘true comfort’ need is.
Do you need a hug or physical affection or intimacy? Maybe you need some kind words or recognition? Perhaps you just want somebody to do something nice for you for once?
Whatever the reason is, try to identify your ‘true comfort’ need and aim to achieve/acquire that, before reaching for the ‘edible comfort’.
Also ask yourself whether the food you are about to grab for, aligns to you overall health and wellness goals. If not, put it back and find an appropriate source of ‘substitute comfort’, such as exercise, yoga, meditation and journaling, which will all support your mood as well as support your long-term health and wellness.
Doing Great & Deserve a Reward?
Do you find yourself enjoying certain types of food (or even alcohol), simply because it feels like a ‘well deserved reward’? Do you indulge food (or alcohol), as a primary outlet for experiencing joy, rather than being driven by your physiological need for food?
Of course food has been a powerful reinforcer of ‘good behaviour’ since we were small children. It’s little wonder then, that as adults, we continue to use foods that we perceive as ‘special treats’, to reward ourselves, whenever we feel we’ve done something well (even if that was just making it through to the end of a particularly long day).
The issue is though, if our intake of ‘special treats’ is mindlessly consumed based on our desire for ‘self-reward’, rather than our physiological need for food, then nutritional imbalances, an over-consumption of energy and/or unnecessary weight gain may result.
Try this Instead:
Firstly, establish some rhythm and routine into a pattern of eating that allows for sensible (nutrition-based) snacking to reduce hunger and cravings. Then, plan your rewards and be selective in your choices.
If you love chocolate, and biscuits, and cake and pastries (for instance), decide upon ‘the one’ that you can’t live without. If that happens to be the Tim Tams, so be it…. but avoid mindlessly eating an entire packet at the end of a hard day…. particularly if you have a tendency to do this every single day. Keep in mind that your nutritionally based ‘routine snacks’, serve a completely different purpose to your ‘rewards’.
Actually schedule or plan your time to stop, sit and ‘mindfully’ savour your Tim Tams, at a regularly scheduled point during the week. Also, make that ‘reward time’ contingent upon achieving a number of pre-established goals!
Date scones used to be a big reward for me…. and my strategy was to ‘Save it till Sunday’! Whenever I had a craving for scones (or similar), rather than deny myself & feel deprived of something I enjoyed, I’d tell myself:
“Yes, I can have my date scones, but I’m choosing to save them until Sunday”.
I’d then establish mini goals in order to ‘earn’ my Sunday ‘reward’…. which typically included a minimum number of workouts and ‘clean eating’ days per week.
That Sunday reward was ohhhhh, so much sweeter….& it came absolutely guilt-free, because it had been ‘built-in’ to my overarching eating pattern & menu plan.
Feeling Anxious or Avoiding a Stressful Situations?
Are you in the process of trying to make a difficult decision or are you involved in some form of conflict situation? Perhaps you’re worrying about a future situation…. something that’s quite possibly not even within your control?
Stop and think for a moment…. have your cravings increased? Has your consumption of high energy/low nutrition ‘junk’ food increased?
For many people, it’s a common response to use food as a way of avoiding those situations and the emotions that arise because of them.
Try this Instead:
Create &/or develop a repertoire of stress reducing activities that you can enjoy as soon as you begin to recognise those stressful feelings rise. Have a cuppa with a friend and talk through it, go for a walk around the local park, or go and sweat it out with some uplifting tunes at the gym.
Whatever method you select, make sure it’s a non-food related activity. Although it doesn’t have to be exercise based either, there are definitely benefits associated with physical activity, such as mood elevation and improved energy levels.
Simple methods such as deep breathing, reading or absorbing yourself in a joyful creative pursuit, can also help you to clear your mind… enabling you to more effectively process and resolve some of those difficult thoughts and emotions.
Experiencing Uncontrollable Cravings?
If you feel like you’ve lost all sense of control over your cravings, and that they seem to be growing stronger and stronger, it’s likely that your ‘perception’ of this experience has more to do with your emotions and your conditioned mechanism for dealing with them (ie: avoidance).
Contrary to popular belief, (and with the exception of medically diagnosed conditions, such as Pica), there is no empirical evidence, that cravings result from nutritional deficiencies, or as a result of food restrictions.
To the contrary, evidence shows that cravings come as a result of positive behavioural reinforcement (feelings of satisfaction and happiness), when the ‘food of interest’ has previously been paired with stimuli such as hunger, positive and/or comforting emotional states or certain environmental stimuli.
In other words….. the food ‘reminds’ you of a positive and comforted state from the past, and ‘recreates’ that state during your times of emotional ‘need’.
Try this Instead: ‘De-conditioning’, ‘normalisation’, and ‘re-conditioning’.
If you’d like to learn more about this ‘deeper’ work, please feel free to book a confidential one-on-one session with me.
In the meantime…. Have a big drink of water, find an alternative or substitute source of ‘comfort’ (yoga, meditation, journaling), remind yourself of your routine eating pattern and how your healthy behaviours support your high level values, chat to a friend, go for a walk or a workout…. and most of all, be confident that you CAN ride this craving out!
Love & Laughter –
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