Is emotional eating sabotaging your health?
Has your weight fluctuated since you were a teenager? Do you binge on junk food when you are alone? Are there times in your life where you have turned to food for comfort, only to be wracked with guilt afterwards? Have you put off making changes in your life “until you are skinny”?
If you identify with one or more of these scenarios then your mind is causing you to crave unhealthy food. Don’t worry you are not alone. Studies have estimated that stress, guilt, loneliness or other emotions accounts for 85% of failed diets. There is a solution to this most common of all impediments to sustainable weight loss.
We introduced this topic briefly in the “binge eating” section of the Weight Loss Fast-Start Plan. Here we will outline a comprehensive 4 step plan to beat emotional eating and achieve your weight loss goals. This plan is foolproof, but requires commitment and focus. It is difficult to break habits, but you can absolutely do this.
Before we outline the 4 steps, a word about willpower. For years you have probably been told that losing weight just required more willpower. I emphatically disagree. Trying to eat less, exercise more, and follow a healthy lifestyle is not a matter of willpower. The only way to change your behavior for the long term is to confront your negative emotions.
Guilt is particularly powerful and common. Guilt about your behavior or current state of your body will sabotage your efforts to change. Do not allow feelings of guilt to enter your mind. Redirect any guilty thoughts toward positive affirmations of the changes you are making. More about this later, but for now just remember you will succeed in adopting new, healthy habits, so there is nothing to feel guilty about.
Certain emotional eating patterns are brought about by situations. Some common challenges include business meals, family gatherings, and peer pressure. For tips on managing these social occasions and sticking to your diet.
4 Step Plan
Step 1 – Keep a Food Journal
Step 1 in your quest to stop emotional eating is to keep a food journal.
Wait-it’s not about writing down everything you eat. It involves keeping a record of what you are feeling when you want to eat something unhealthy. The objective is to uncover the emotional triggers causing you to overeat, or to eat food that is not healthy.
To help you identify your emotional eating triggers, visit this page on Common Reasons for Emotional Eating.
Track your feelings for at least a week. Patterns will emerge quickly that provide clues about your emotional eating. You likely have more than one trigger, so keep an open mind and do not jump to one conclusion too quickly.
Record the time, place, and what you were doing when you were first feeling a particular food craving. For example, Monday night 6pm, right after arriving home from work, you were ravenous and could not stop thinking about eating potato chips.
Then write down how you were feeling when you first felt the craving. Were you tired? Bored? Stressed out after a difficult confrontation with a client or coworker? Avoiding doing something else that you promised yourself you would do (like exercise or cook a healthy dinner)?
You have likely formed a habit of eating in response to certain situations and feelings that have nothing to do with hunger. Once you recognize these feelings and situations, you can formulate a plan to confront the feelings, redirect your behavior, and return to using food for its intended purpose, to nourish your body.
Step 2 – Replace Emotional Eating
Step 2 in your quest to stop emotional eating is to replace emotional eating with healthy actions. First identify your emotional eating triggers. The actions that are going to be effective will depend on which emotions and situations are causing your cravings.
The short term objective is to distract yourself from eating until the cravings pass by doing something other than eating. The longer term objective is to change your thoughts and emotions.
Here are some common triggers with suggestions to try:
Boredom – When you are bored you need to replace emotional eating with actions that get you out of the kitchen and do not involve food. Go for a walk, call a friend, read a good book, play with your kids, do a crossword or suduku puzzle, learn 10 new words of a foreign language. Read some funny news online.
Loneliness – When you are lonely the long-term solution is to take small steps to connect with others which will eventually lead to deeper relationships. Replace emotional eating due to loneliness by taking one of these small steps.
For example, set up a profile on one of the social networking sites and explore the groups to find common interests. Reach out and send a message to someone else in a group who you identify with. Examples of social networking sites to try include eons (for baby boomers), facebook, and myspace.
You can always email a friend, write a letter to a service member fighting overseas (go to www.adoptaplatoon.org), watch a funny movie, or play with your pet.
Anger – Let’s say you are angry at another person, yourself, or a situation you feel you have no control over. Recognize this for what it is. Do not turn to food since eating will not resolve the situation.
You might try calling a friend or family member to “vent”. If you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious calling someone, write about it in a journal. Resolve not to let the other person “win” by sabotaging your weight loss goals too!
Guilt – If your guilt is about an ongoing circumstance, then take small steps to change. For example, if you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your children, plan an outing for the upcoming weekend. Tell them about it now, so they have something to look forward to.
The first step in addressing guilt is acknowledging it. Often guilt is buried deep under many layers of emotion. Guilt will likely continue to surface and destroy your health if you do not face it and beat it. See a therapist if you need help.
Stress/Anxiety – Exercise is one of the best stress fighters. Even taking a walk around the block if you are at work can give you a new perspective. Talk with a colleague or family member about the situation. Knowing you are not alone and listening to others’ offers to help can often ease your mind.
Humor is very helpful for relieving day to day stress and anxiety, so watch a sitcom you enjoy or a funny movie.
Feeling unappreciated – Let’s say you successfully finished a big project at work or cleaned your entire house and no one seems to notice. You feel like you deserve a reward, so your thoughts turn to food (usually it’s sweets for me). Once you recognize this craving for what it is, give yourself permission to reward yourself in another way.
Get a massage or facial, go to a book store and buy that bestseller you’ve been meaning to read, or watch that TV show you taped last night. More about rewarding yourself in Step 4.
Another way to put your own challenges in perspective is to help others. Visit Volunteer for ideas and links to organizations.
Step 3 – Affirmations and Visualization
Step 3 in your quest to stop emotional eating involves using lose weight affirmations and visualization. Does this feel squishy and uncomfortable? Lose weight affirmations and visualization have a powerful effect on our ability to change life-long habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Have you heard about the book by Louise Hay You Can Heal Your Life? Or The Secret by Rhonda Byrne? Maybe you cannot see yourself ever reading a self-help or spiritual book. That is OK. But if you are serious about stopping emotional eating, it is imperative that you get control of your emotions.
The rewards of getting control of your emotions are profound. No it will not be easy. But it is not impossible. It’s a journey that will continue throughout your life. You will not wake up one morning “cured” and thinking only positive thoughts. It is something that will require diligence and practice. But it will get easier the more you do it.
The good news: changing your thoughts does not take hours and hours. Spending 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and 5 minutes at the end of the day is all it takes. At first it will seem silly, but if you stick with it, you will see results.
What’s the ideal place to practice lose weight affirmations and visualizations? In your bathroom with the door locked. No one will question your need for privacy in the bathroom! Look in the mirror and say the following out loud:
I love and approve of myself. I love my body. I feed it nourishing, healthy food. My body rewards me by operating at peak efficiency. I am working toward being fit and trim. I enjoy exercise and the energy it brings.
Then close your eyes and think about what you have to be thankful for. This can be as simple as giving thanks that your children are healthy, you have a roof over your head, you have a loving spouse, your coworker gave you a nice complement today, you enjoyed a great movie with a friend, it’s a beautiful day, whatever.
Think of at least 5 things you have to be thankful for. Feel your love and gratitude for others as you acknowledge these blessings.
Finally, visualize yourself as slim, fit, and healthy. The more detailed these visualizations, the faster you will see results. Smile as you feel the positive emotions. Know that you are making the changes necessary every day, every meal, every exercise session, and every glass of water you drink. Believe you can do it and it will happen.
Do this exercise for 5 minutes at the beginning and the end of each day. You will see results even faster if you write down your lose weight affirmations on a small index card that you carry around with you and refer to throughout the day.
Redirect your thoughts in order to beat the cravings and bingeing.
Step 4 – Positive Reinforcement
Step 4 in your quest to stop emotional eating is to use positive reinforcement. The changes you are making to adopt a new healthy lifestyle are not easy, and they are all tied together. It’s important to reward yourself for each successful change you make. Every time you redirect a food craving and negative emotion into another behavior, say a silent thank you and congratulate yourself.
Which rewards are effective? Recall the triggers for your emotional eating. Were your cravings associated with boredom? If you have successfully redirected your behavior and adopted new activities such as exercise, maybe a new running outfit or a session with a personal trainer is an appropriate reward.
Was your emotional eating often due to loneliness? Have you made some new friends on-line or devoted more time to training your pet? An effective reward might be buying a larger computer monitor, going to a movie, or taking your dog to the park.
Rewards can be as simple as a calming bubble bath, or as elaborate as a vacation. Just remember to remind yourself that the event is due to successfully overcoming an emotional eating trigger. Positive reinforcement works. It may sound corny, but just like training your new puppy, new habits are solidified by rewarding good behavior.
Another gratifying reward is to “pay it forward”. Some people are happier helping others. An effective reward for you might be spending time volunteering at the local animal shelter, delivering meals to elderly shut-ins, or planting trees in the park. You can even help others without leaving your house by visiting on-line forums on social networking sites and sending encouraging messages to others struggling with their weight and health. Share your success to motivate them.
Your subconscious will begin to associate your new lifestyle with happiness. This will cause you to look forward to making the changes you need to make. Before you know it you will be slim, happy, and healthy.
The changes you are making to adopt a new healthy lifestyle are not
easy, and they are all tied together. It’s important to reward
yourself for each successful change you make.
I prefer to call setbacks “learning moments”. Emotions are powerful. It has taken you years to establish the habits that cause you to turn to food in response to certain situations and emotions. It will not be a linear path to change your behavior.
Sometimes you will run in to challenging situations that need to be managed. The best way to deal with these is to anticipate them, formulate a plan, and visualize success. This post about sticking to your diet on special occasions can help for some common examples and solutions.