I just had a session with a longtime client. She recapped a couple of weeks where her stress was unusually high, higher than the family/work juggle many of us attempt. After she summarized what had been happening, I agreed with her, “that’s a lot, I totally get it.” And she looked at me and asked, “so how do I not eat crap when all of this is happening?” The truth is, the very fact that she came for her appointment to address this AND asked this question were good signs. But it’s such a tricky question. How do we avoid “life sucks right now and I deserve to eat….”?
I don’t think the desire to feel good, when life is challenging, is entirely wrong. We don’t want to be destructive but alleviating some of the pain is an acceptable goal. A non-food treat such as a walk outside, a massage, buying flowers can provide a little boost.
Forecast your Food
A great deal of emotional eating is impulsive. Most of us have patterns- shitty interaction with a coworker-cookie, kids acting up- finish their food while cleaning up, bad date- grab “treat” on way home. A way around this is to take pen to paper (better than typing it) and write out your food plan for the day. It’s ok to include dark chocolate or a good carb but hold yourself to eating according to your menu.
Sugar and fats have similar effects on our brains. Instead of candy or ice cream, try satisfying that urge with fatty food. Cheese, almond butter, guacamole- while I know a cheese binge isn’t a solution it’s a better solution than the sugar.
Connect with the repercussions
This is a tricky one. On one hand, it’s strategic to walk yourself through how you’ll feel following an emotional eating episode. Maybe you’ll feel guilty, maybe you’ll feel physically ill, we all know how it works. However, “you better not do this” is never the precursor to positive actions. You want to show yourself the path to a victory. “You’re doing so well with your healthy eating and will feel amazing if you skip the chips.” Or, “I want to wake up feeling accomplished.”
Feel the feelings
I know this one seems like it could be filed away in “duh, we know that.” But, if we’re eating because we’re scared or sad or stressed, the eating is just a numbing mechanism. Do you need a good cry? A therapy session to walk through the feelings? To have the conversation you’re avoiding with a partner, spouse or friend? Or to journal what it is you’re experiencing that feels sort of yuck? If you process the emotions, you don’t have to eat over them.
The truth is, emotional eating makes sense. You feel lousy and you eat something to temporarily feel better. The problem is it’s like a 5-minute solution that results in more negativity on top of the initial stress. See which strategy works for you and let us know if you have any questions.