If getting healthy was only about eating right and exercising, most of us would be healthy. Whether it is eating to destress from work, to escape our relationship problems, to comfort ourselves when we feel rejected or lonely or to celebrate surviving another day, the reality is that we use food for more reasons than simply providing nutrition and energy for our bodies and minds.
As a health coach, emotional eating is identified as the number one behavior holding my clients back from 1) getting results in their health and weight and 2) maintaining those results. From a biochemical standpoint, it’s no wonder emotional eating plagues so many of us. Processed foods full of sugar send signals to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones like dopamine to be released. Chocolate also releases trace amounts of mood and satisfaction elevating hormones.
Because we are driven by “what feels good”, it’s easy to see how emotional eating can become an acquired habit. Whether we feel angry, sad, happy, bored or anxious, we learn that food can bring us temporary comfort and pleasure. Sweet and fatty refined foods that make us “feel good” in the moment are also the perfect buffet for the not-so-friendly yeasts (such as candida) and bad bacteria in your gut. These unhealthy food choices feed unhealthy yeasts and bacteria causing food cravings and squeezing out the good bacteria that aids in healthy digestion and mood.
So, where do you begin to overcome emotional eating? The most powerful tool is creating a safe environment in your home. If you have foods in your home (chocolate, ice cream, chips, candy, cookies, wine, etc.) that tempt you when you are feeling uncomfortable emotions that you want to comfort, you are destined to fail. If those foods are not in your home, you will have the space and time you need to talk yourself off the ledge.
The second tool is detaching yourself from the relief you will feel DURING the binge and instead connect yourself to the feelings you will feel AFTER the binge. Although you may feel almost euphoric when you are indulging in the bar of chocolate, bottle of wine or whole pizza, the emotions that follow usually include guilt, shame, self-loathing, embarrassment, depression, etc.
The truth is that most of us will do more to avoid pain than we will do to experience pleasure. So focus on the PAIN of the decision to emotionally eat BEFORE you start. This will take away the power of the binge.
The last tool is enjoying small indulgences throughout the week, to avoid feelings of deprivation. You may decide to choose to have a dessert at dinner or your favorite coffee drink on Wednesday afternoons or a glass of wine on Friday night. No one wants to be told they “can’t” do something. This is a sure fire way to bring out the defiant toddler that lives in us all. So allow yourself indulgences in moderation.
The bottom line is emotional eating CAN be overcome. Avoid telling yourself, “I am an emotional eater.” There are many more layers to emotional eating that can be uncovered including identifying the major emotion that drives you to eat and what you can do to deal with or heal that emotion beyond eating. If you would like more support on emotional eating, check out www.healthyedgeliving.com.
Amber is CEO of The Healthy Edge. She has passionately
created The Healthy Edge lifestyle system and a comprehensive health coach certification program to further her mission of empowering people to live their most abundant life.