When we are feeling empty, disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad, or unfulfilled we seek out things to comfort us. We look for ways to medicate ourselves and ease the emotional pain. Some people comfort themselves with a cigarette, while others comfort themselves with shopping. Some seek the comfort of sexual intimacy and many seek comfort with food. In essence food can and does affect our mood but it is temporary. Eating sweets and other favorites can make us in the moment feel happy, energized, and relieved. The critical thing to know is that this momentary solution never lasts. The source of our distress, worry, sadness remains long after the last bite of food has been taken. In addition we are often left to deal with the additional burden of guilt and shame which often follows emotional eating. The following are some important strategies for those who find themselves engaging in emotional eating but sincerely want to make a change.
1. Press pause – When you think you are hungry instead of automatically assuming that you are physically in need of food stop to reflect on your inner feelings. Ask yourself how hungry am I? Am I feeling stress or am I actually in need of food? Interrupt the automatic connection that has been created in your mind that equates emotional need with physical hunger.
2. Consider what you are truly craving – Get real with yourself about the empty places in your life. Until you know what you really want you will never get it. Acknowledge to yourself what your hunger, desire, need is about. Admit that you are hungry for fulfillment, purpose, peace, authentic joy, and healthy relationships. Once you admit it to yourself make a decision to resist the temptation of settling for temporary distraction.
3. Fight Boredom and Find Joy – When food is the sole source of your joy you will turn to it all the time. Discover new paths of enjoyment. Go after the things that make you come alive. Find joy in your spiritual walk, in your career path, in your hobbies, and in your friendships.
4. Develop positive relationships – Some of us have made food our best friend, the only source of our consistent support. To resist emotional eating develop good relationships with friends that are encouraging, motivating, and inspiring. Instead of turning to the kitchen for your relief you can reach out to someone that can actually reach back to you. Knowing that you are not alone can radically shift your current reliance on emotional eating.
5. Avoid self-sabotage – Stocking your cabinets and refrigerator with foods that often lead to emotional eating is a set-up for a setback. If you live alone and yet buy in bulk (supposedly to save money) you really should reconsider this approach. Be honest with yourself by not surrounding yourself with the type of food and/or amount of food that supports emotional eating. Switch to healthier foods and snacks and this will be a measure of your true hunger. If you are really hungry you will eat the healthier options available to you.
It is possible to shift to healthier ways of coping, eating, and living. However it is also important to remember if you do fall into emotional eating you should strive to avoid putting yourself down. Put-downs will only feed into the negative cycle causing you to feel bad and seek more comfort from food. Break the pattern by getting in touch with your passion and purpose.