I am an emotional eater!

A friend of mine contacted me regarding the problems she experiences with emotional eating. Instead of writing a long response, I thought to summarize my points in a blog post, because many people might benefit from these points.

The person mentioned above has tried and failed using the following strategies:

– counting calories
– completely abstain from sweets
– add more protein to the diet
– eat a plant-based diet
– eat a gluten-free diet
– try different apps which remind about eating habits

Her attempts always ended up in the cycle of making unhealthy food choices when frustrated or feeling emotionally stressed. Then those unhealthy choices leading to feeling more frustrated and then subsequently eating more unhealthy food, and finally leading to weight gain or not being able to lose that weight over time.

emoeat2

What is the problem?

The problem is not necessarily the diet, quantity or quality of food. To some extent, food can be like a feel good drug. It is a way to self-medicate. Comfort food tastes good and makes us feel better (momentarily).  Also, comfort food is readily available.  It can stimulate pleasure pathways in the brain.

Using food as comfort, to feel good, and to stop feeling emotional is not a problem on its own. Almost everybody does that. I do that too. But it becomes a problem, when:

– we do it in excess
– feel out of control
– we cannot stop, even when satisfied
– if we don’t have any alternatives to manage our feelings.

Possible strategies

Here is a list of different strategies I came across during my nutrition coaching studies. Apply what you think fits you best.

Food journal

A food journal can be very helpful here but, instead of only tracking the amount and what you eat, make sure to write down any thoughts and feelings with that meal.

emotional-journal.jpg

After gathering data for a few days or a week, identify any patterns. In particular, links between specific thoughts, feelings, situations, and behaviors.

Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full

In my opinion, this topic is so important that I devoted a whole article on it. Please have a look here: Should I eat when I am hungry?

HALT

HALT stands for
– Hungry
– Angry or Anxious
– Lonely
– Tired

When you notice an urge to eat when emotional, pause for a minute and ask yourself if you are hungry or angry, lonely or tired? We are not always recognizing what we think, feel and experience. Learning how to be more aware can help you to manage a particular behavior after a while

Alternatives

When we find out what we are seeking with the emotional eating (to calm down, to have fun, connect with others, etc.), we can then try to find alternatives, such as:

– Mediate, massage or other relaxation techniques
Have a look here for an entire article about tips for dealing with stress and the benefits of meditation, massage, etc.

– going outside to walk or for a jog
Engaging in any light activity can help you cope with emotional stress. It can be as simple as going for a walk.

– engaging in an activity, you enjoy
That can be anything, from Muay Thai to CrossFit, to running to lifting weights. A few years ago I could change a lot of negative habits by starting to devote a lot of energy and time to Muay Thai (and later lifting weights). A lot of people I met during my time here in boxing camps in Thailand, told me a similar story. Of course, there are dangers when people start to compensate with severe exercise. But this point we discuss another time.

I believe these few points are very beneficial for a lot of people; even though the point might be incomplete. Please let me know, what is missing or your struggles and thoughts and experiences. Please write them in the comments below or as a message. And share this post with people you know, who will benefit from these strategies. Thank you.

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