How To Cope With Your Emotions Without Turning To Food: Principle 7 Of Intuitive Eating
Emotional eating involves using food to help you cope with your emotions. If you struggle with emotional eating, you are not alone!
One of the most common topics I get asked about is how to stop emotional eating. Now, food and emotions are inextricably linked and eating for emotional reasons isn’t ALL bad. (Think: celebrations or holidays!).
But, when eating becomes our go to response for handling uncomfortable feelings, it might be time to do some reflection.
So often, I’m asked: “How Do I Stop Emotional Eating?”
Eating for emotional reasons is a common human experience. Everyone does it to some degree. But for many, eating when they’re not hungry becomes so common that it prevents them from learning to trust their bodies and live their best life.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
You’ve had a long day. Your dog had you up in the middle of the night and you couldn’t go back to sleep. You had a busy day packed with meetings so you had to eat your lunch at your desk. You left work in time to pick up the kids and ate a snack while you drove home. You arrive home feeling drained. You open up a bag of potato chips while you think about what to prep for dinner. The next thing you know, your hand is at the bottom of the bag. You feel uncomfortably full and are filled with feelings of regret.
Do you find yourself saying,
If so, you’re not alone.
Why is emotional eating so common?
In our time-starved society, we often don’t feel comfortable taking time out for ourselves (something we call self care). Sometimes our lives are so demanding that taking time to eat lunch is nearly impossible, our commitments are so great, and the to-do list seems to never-ending!
As adults, we often take on a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude, but inside all of us is our inner-child, that little part of us that knows we need some form of nurturing in our lives. And when we continually ignore our needs, that primal need comes out in some way, often as mindless, emotional eating.
There are times when we are truly hungry and we eat mindlessly because our hunger levels got to be too much for us to have a satisfying eating experience.
If you’d like to learn more about this experience, you can read this post: Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Hunger
Many times, we weren’t even hungry, yet we ate to fill some unmet need in our life or to distract us from feeling uncomfortable emotions.
Can you recall a recent situation when you ate to distract yourself, even though you weren’t hungry?
What was your experience after you finished eating?
Try to remember all the details you can.
How did you feel physically?
What emotions did you feel?
Take a few minutes to reflect on this past experience. If any negative feelings arise, try to let them go. See if you can really tune into the memory as a curious observer.
How To Lean In and Learn From Your Experience
First, I would suggest that you offer yourself some kindness and forgiveness. Eating according to our emotions is a common experience, as I said above, it’s not always something to worry about.
Along these lines, I also like to remind my clients that there are times when using food might be the best tool they have had. And, in the grand scheme of things, it is nowhere near the same level as abusing drugs or alcohol.
Curiosity, Not Judgment
If you have read my prior blos on Intuitive Eating, you’ll know that I often ask you to explore your eating experience instead of judgment
Because curiosity helps us learn and grow. Judgment, on the other hand, causes us to feel shame. And then we head into a downward spiral of guilt. We don’t learn when we judge ourselves.
Ask Yourself: What Did I Really Need?
The key to understanding and learning from our emotional eating experiences is to delve deeper into the moment and ask ourselves:
What Did I Really Need??
An Exercise: What Did I Need?
To do this exercise, you’ll need to have a mind open to curiosity.
It also helps to do it when you’re not ravenous!
The next time you have the urge to eat when you’re not physically hungry:
Take 3 deep breaths to help center yourself;
Set a 5 minute timer (Note: this is NOT to distract or prevent you from eating afterwards, but rather to hit the pause button to allow time for reflection.);
Ask yourself – What emotion am I feeling? At first, this might feel strange or awkward. Do a scan of your body to see where you might be feeling tension. It’s really amazing: our bodies can provide us with a wealth of information we can use to decode what we really need.
- Ask yourself – What do I really need right now? As you sit for a few minutes you may find there are a myriad of possibilities.
Perhaps you need:
A talk with a spouse, friend or other loved one
A cup of tea
A walk around the block or through a garden
Reading a book or magazine
As you’ll see, the possibilities are many, and they’ll differ greatly by person.
Now, you still might find that you want to eat something after this exercise.
And that’s totally ok! Really!!
Chances are that you learned something doing this exercise. And if you repeat it frequently you’ll find that you’ll be better at identifying your feelings and needs, both of which are key on your journey to become an intuitive eater.
Now, all of these things you need aren’t always a possibility all the time.
For example, you can’t take a bath while you’re at work.
But, by brainstorming and preparing ahead of time for different scenarios, you can help plan for situations when you find yourself vulnerable.
Could you sit at your desk with your eyes closed and do a mini-meditation?
You might plan 15 minutes of downtime before you start dinner preparation after work;
Perhaps you might plan for take out for dinner 1-2 nights a week; or
Bring some prepared snacks to work for that 3pm slump.
Here’s how brainstorming and thinking outside the box helped one of my clients:
One client found that she was particularly vulnerable to emotional eating around 3pm.
What did she do?
When she reflected on what she really needed, she found that it was comfort, as she prepared for a busy evening ahead. So, she proactively prepared a chair in her home with a blanket and a devotional book. It was her special place to recharge and center herself.
What I really love is that she prepared ahead so she wouldn’t have to gather these items when she was at a vulnerable point in her day. And she used her ‘comfort corner’ when this need arose.
Perhaps you’ve been working on your emotional eating for some time. But you’ve found it challenging to make progress on your own. It is hard work to dismantle years of patterns and beliefs, and many women benefit from having a guide as they go through this journey.
My clients get total support as they learn to make peace with food and their bodies.
Are you curious to know what it’s like to work with me?
Fill out my application and schedule your complimentary Take Action Call. This call is an opportunity for you to let me know where you are struggling right now, where you hope to be in 6 months, and for us to figure out if you’d be a good fit for my programs.
Perhaps this article is one of the first things you’ve read about Intuitive Eating, and you aren’t ready to commit to 1:1 support. If this describes you, I’ve created a free e-book ‘7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating,’ which you can download here:
If you missed my earlier articles, you can catch up here:
What is Intuitive Eating?
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”