Having an emotional connection to food is not uncommon. Some of us have a greater connection than others and you, Ms. Emotional Eater, are the reason for this article. The emotions that cause you to over-eat the most are stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Generally, these emotions are triggered by the everyday pressures of living, for example: unemployment, financial woes, health problems, work stress, fatigue and the dreaded relationship conflicts. Emotional eaters tend to not be aware of the connection between their over eating and their emotions and will often say things like, “This is just my favorite food and that is why I always eat it” or “I only eat this on special occasions” or even “My job/co-worker brings this food in and I don’t want to be rude.”
Everyone has a favorite food and you can eat your favorite food all you want, but why do you always eat your favorite food when you’re home alone? Could it be that you feel lonely? Acknowledging the emotion that is attached to the “favorite food” binge is the first step in avoiding it. Don’t give yourself an easy out. Really confront what’s going on with you.
Special occasion/holiday overeating is a huge excuse (pun intended) often used by emotional eaters. The weekend isn’t a special occasion, someone’s wedding who you don’t really know isn’t a special occasion, and Martin Luther’s King birthday isn’t a special occasion, to over indulge. I once had a client use the late great MLK as an excuse for ordering a huge desert. The holidays and special occasions bring with it a flurry of emotions. Dealing with your holiday/special occasion emotions in a constructive way (e.g. via therapy/counseling) can mean the difference between 50lbs gained or 50lbs loss.
Here are my top three ways to help you begin to break the cycle of your Emotional Eating:
1. Keep a food diary – Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal the connection between mood and food. One client told me she didn’t write down a day of what she ate because she felt ashamed. My response: “Well maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t have been eating it!”
2. Take away temptation– Do not keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they’re hard for you to resist. If you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’re sure that you have your emotions in check. I visited a client at work one day and caught her with cake all over her face, she didn’t look happy and neither did I. But the cake was in her office and she ordered it for the staff. (I didn’t see anyone else around though, smh)
3. Get enough sleep – If you’re constantly tired, you might snack to try to give yourself an energy boost. Take a nap or go to bed earlier instead. I had a client ask me recently what she should do when she gets home late and she hasn’t eaten anything. My response: “Go to bed! I promise you won’t wake up starved”