Emotional Eating and How To Do It Less

I love to eat. And I eat when I am excited, anxious, tired, irritated, bored, you name it. I eat when I'm feeling ALL the feels. What about you? Do you find yourself walking into the kitchen just "because?"

Do you eat to live or live to eat? Or maybe both?

The way we eat often matches the way we're living our lives. So what speed are you going? Are you racing from morning to night? Does it feel like you devour life and devour meals? Or do you take the tortoise approach and prod along slowly as you go through the motions?  

And what fuel are you choosing? 

On average, we have 200 interactions with food a day. That's some prime real estate! Is the food you're eating worthy of you? Is it going to add or subtract from your day, your life?

Want food to love you back? Each time I reach for something, I ask "what are you going to do for me? You going to make me feel energetic and on top of the world? Or you going to make me feel bloated and sluggish?" Sound silly? Sure, but it helps me stay present. So try it. And be honest with yourself. That awareness is a first step toward greater self-love. And whether we create it or others do, we need all the love we can get!  

Still think it sounds weird? What about this: food is information. It's vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fats, proteins, carbs, pesticides, plastics (yes, even plastics are being consumed, anytime you drink hot coffee through a coffee cup lid, boom you've just had some coffee with a side of plastic) and so on all talking to our genes. Therefore each interaction with food is an opportunity to heal and turn on positive gene expression and downstream benefits—or perpetuate chronic disease. Hint: pesticides and plastics are not on our side. There you have it. Plain and simple. 


Here are 7 thoughts on emotional eating and what the heck to do about it:

Emotional eating is never about celery or kale  

Emotions drive decision making. According to The Institute for Functional Medicine over 75% of overeating is due to emotional reasons. Through food we can connect to past memories (let's eat these cookies, they're like the ones Grandma used to make!) or disassociate from a current stress (let's eat these cookies so we don't have to think about all the things that we have to do today!).  Those in states of emotional eating are going to choose things that are nutrient poor and calorically dense. Like bagels. Donuts. Candy bars. DESSERT! Why do we go for comfort foods and not nutrient dense veggies? Because sugar calms us down. It blunts the body's response to stress. Drink a milkshake and walahh things don't seem as serious anymore. So know that you now, what can you do about it? Keep reading.

Get those emotions "in motion"

Emotional eating happens when eating becomes the response to an emotion (rather than expressing the emotion). Suppressing a negative mood will keep a downward spiral going. Before walking into the kitchen deal with the feelings. Have a plan. Go do 20 push-ups and then take a shower. Are you still "hungry?" Find different ways to cope with the emotions that lead you to food. Choose an activity that matches the intensity of your emotion. Are you bored or lethargic? Go for a walk. Agitated? Go for a run. Rely on your skill-power, not your willpower.

Know the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger

Listen to your body. Can you sense physical hunger signals versus emotional hunger signals? When was the last time you felt true physical hunger? Unless you're intermittent fasting, I bet it's been awhile. How about emotional hunger? Most of us feel it every day. Emotional hunger is more gnawing and persistent. It makes you feel guilty. It's very sudden. And it's usually for a specific food and comes after you've experienced an upsetting or excitatory emotion. Just got a raise at work? MUST EAT. Just got a promotion? MUST EAT. 

Have you heard of HALT? When you realize that you've walked into the kitchen, ask yourself, Am I Hungry? And if the answer is yes, then eat. However if the answer is Angry, Lonely or Tired, go find a way to distract yourself for awhile. 

Get acquainted with your physiology

Crave much? Feel like you NEED chocolate right before your period starts? Most women have cravings toward sweet foods as it relates to their menstrual cycle. And during days 21-28 estrogen dips and there are changes in progesterone making women more sensitive to emotions. Please don't bottle in those emotions. But maybe give your family a head's up before your progesterone dips. You know. As a curtesy.    

Be aware of where your calories are coming from and stop counting them

Calories are not all created equal. Different foods send different messages in the body. Broccoli will turn on good genes that stop cancer. Pop will turn on genes that cause cancer. So eat the foods that nourish you. That love you. Feel like you still need to count something (no judgment, counting calories has been pushed for decades)? Okay, count vegetables. And make sure each day you eat 9-13 servings at a minimum. If you're eating all your vegetables I promise you won't need to count calories ever again. 

It's not just what one eats, but how one eats

Where are you eating? How is your posture? Do you have a straight back, or are your shoulders hunched over the plate? Have you taken a few deep breaths? How present are you? Every meal deserves to be a celebration, but this is only possible if we choose to make it so. Most people are doing something else when they're eating. When we're not grounded or focused we end up eating more. Surprised? Have you ever looked down into your bowl of ice-cream and think where the heck did that all go? Or hit the bottom of a bag of chips and think did I really just eat the whole bag?

Practice gratitude

Activate the parasympathetic system to be able to rest and digest. How? PAUSE. Breathe deeply and exhale longer than your inhale. Give thanks before eating. It can be for anything. My boys love giving thanks for "notebooks," "research," "the blue mat (at karate)," and "momma's cooking." Okay okay...you caught me. But I had to throw that in there. Gratitude amplifies the good, rescues us from negativity and resentment, and connects us to greater forces. 

There you have it. 7 thoughts on emotional eating and what to do about it. And now its time for me to do 20 push-ups. So I don't aimlessly walk into the kitchen. :) 

Feeling hungry? Want to eat like a linebacker? Great! Just make sure to choose WELL so that you stay well!