Stopping Emotional Eating: Some Ideas to Help

We all can and do use food to feel better — sometimes.  Food is  more than nutrition; it’s comfort, love, predictability, control.  When we use food to avoid dealing with our responsibilities, our feelings, our fears, we tend to overeat.  This overeating becomes a habit.  As with all habits, this one can be changed.  If you are a chronic emotional overeater,  I hope these ideas help.

Eating to stop feeling sad:
Are you depressed?  Do you eat to not feel sad?
Sad emotions are tough to feel.  We can feel an ache in the stomach, a pain in the heart,  or a lump in the throat.  We don’t want to feel that way so we may look to food to take the feelings away.  We overeat, and afterwards feel guilty, reinforcing a vicious cycle.  How can you prevent this from repeating?

Eating out of fear
Fear (or anxiety) is a major cause of overeating.  We don’t want to deal with something:  a bill, a meeting,  a talk with a friend or loved one.  Or we just have free-floating anxiety about the state of the world, our kids, whatever.  So we eat to not deal with the fear or process our anxiety.  We stuff ourselves and these uncomfortable feelings,  but feel worse and still afraid or anxious later.

Eating out of Anger
How do you express your anger, whether at others or yourself?  Do you stuff it, thinking anger is inappropriate?  Do you beat yourself up for your mistakes?

emo-eatingFor all types of overeating , or any compulsive behavior, developing a mindfulness practice can be very helpful,  You may still continue to feel pain, fear or anger, but being mindful gives you a choice about your actions.  If you are interested in developing a mindfulness-based approach,  I can refer you to therapists who specialize in this training or point you to workshops in the area.

Learning to be with your discomfort without having to act on it is an acquired skill.  While you are mastering a new approach, another suggestion is to write down what is bothering you.  When you “download” a problem from your head to the page, it stops being so troublesome.  The scary co-worker or neighbor becomes just a person to be spoken to.  Keep a notebook around that you can get at easily and start writing in it today!

Finally, it’s best to have a “Panic Room” ready when all else fails.  Keep your house free of chips, ice cream and other foods that will do serious damage if overeaten.  Feel free to binge on nuts, nut butters, yogurt, cheese, meats, fruits, veggies and dark chocolate.  For dark chocolate, go with at least 72% cacao.

A recommended book on the topic is “Food: The Good Girl’s Drug” by Sunny Sea Gold (H/T Elizabeth)