Do you use food to make you feel better?
I did. My whole life.
I whiled away lonely school lunchtimes nibbling a finger of fudge.
I ate at my desk in a dead-end job.
I used biscuits to reward myself while I potty-trained my toddler.
Day. After. Day.
As long as you’re alive, you’re feeling. Some of it hurts.
It’s natural to reach for the nearest thing, even if it’s a wooden spoon to scoop up leftover chilli con carne.
And food is amazing! It’s tremendously comforting!
For about seventeen seconds.
Then you get the emotional hangover.
Emotional eating leaves me feeling weird (I’m full but not satisfied), outta control (I’m like a puppet being propelled to the fridge) and anxious (I know I’m avoiding something).
And do you panic about getting fat too?
Emotional eating freaks out my body image – “Rice pudding instead of rice cakes? This is gonna take its toll!”
Soon I’m guilty, ashamed, and smuggling my empty pudding tins into a street bin after the school run.
That’s a double-layering of awfulness: You eat because you feel bad… and then you feel bad about eating! What a poop sandwich!
If you’re like me, you want it to stop.
So… Dieting? Ban your favourite food?
Doesn’t work for me – I feel worse when I fall of the wagon (I always do).
Plus, my inner rebel stages a riot. When I set rules, I want to binge eat EVERYTHING. Plus, the emotion that started it all? Sigh. Still there.
What if there were an alternative approach?
There is! A few years ago I stumbled into the world of mindfulness, eating intuitively, and started learning what relaxation does to your brain. I was amazed: pleasure actually signals to your body to digest! So the more chilled out you are, the more satisfied and less crazy-craving you can become.
So, instead of trying to be a willpower hero who won’t let her emotions win, I tried paying more attention to what I was feeling while eating. I let my sensations be vivid. And if my emotions were negative, I tried to accept them, or at least relax about having them.
I’m not pretending it’s a breeze.
It’s hard to be zen about anger, resentment, jealousy, loneliness, rejection. But noticing the feelings, and watching them, is less futile than trying to choke them down.
It worked. Since then, emotional eating doesn’t have any hold on me at all! It pops up, sure! But goes away easily by itself within a day or two. I’ve also been…
– ready for the fanfare and fireworks? –
Completely (Tatatataaa!) Free! (Boom!) From guilt! (Pkw! Pkwww! Pkww!)
And best of all? If you try these tips you might get a twinge of a new feeling – (I know I have): I think it’s what people call ‘self-love’. For me, it’s as simple as listening to myself and staying connected to my body while I eat.
So here are 11 unconventional ways to stop your emotional eating habit, and your self-reproach about it, without having to become an emotionless robot.
1. Don’t try to ‘stop’ emotional eating – as in, don’t try to crack down on the eating part.
Don’t go on a diet, or make yourself promises.
Not-eating is much harder than it sounds, and you might trigger binge eating, like it did for me!
2. Eat slowly, so you notice your feelings.
Notice the detail: What you feel before you eat. How the emotions feel physically. What you’re thinking.
When I did this, I could ‘hear’ the thoughts behind the feelings– like, “I always cave in”, and “I can’t cope”.
That awareness will be your superpower.
And, if you’re lucky, you might notice when you’re full, too.
3. Congratulate yourself on your emotional eating!
You are not bad, or weak, or greedy for eating emotionally. You’re just tidying your feelings out of sight – which means you’re an expert at coping!
Now you just need a new way to cope.
Decide (yes, decide) to stop focusing on guilt, shame, and on the victimhood of failing around food. These are the only feelings that don’t deserve any attention.
4. Be grateful to emotional eating – it’s an early warning system.
What if you changed your goal: Instead of aiming to never emotionally eat, how about aiming to not get stuck doing it?
It’s normal to buy yourself time to figure out what you truly need.
For example, when I found myself crying into a bag of fries after flunking that audition, I realised I needed help coping with rejection. I hired a therapist and changed my career strategy.
5. Get in an emotional lather.
By the time you’ve cracked your eating challenge you’ll have so many fresh insights about yourself, you’ll be rich in self-knowledge.
It’s getting excited that propels us into action. And you should be thrilled: you’re currently on the brink of a breakthrough!
Your hopefulness, faith and enthusiasm give you the Voom to create a revolution in your relationship with food.
6. You don’t have to ‘solve’ the emotion that made you eat.
If you’re sad, you’re not obliged to cheer up. Instead, can you allow sadness?
If you hate yourself, you don’t have to manufacture self-esteem. Instead, can you notice your inner bully?
Can you love even that part of yourself that’s trying to hate yourself into change?
It’s liberating to realise that your darker emotions won’t kill you.
7. Get specific about your awful feelings.
Really notice their subtlety.
Are you angry, exactly? Or actually more resentful?
Are you lonely? Or afraid you won’t find someone?
Once you’ve named the sensation, delve into literature, film, poetry, and Google to see how others have expressed it, let it go. Every feeling has been felt by someone else, guaranteed.
8. Let go. And let it go again.
Maybe ‘letting go’ isn’t something you do just once.
You don’t ‘cure’ emotion. We waste our time trying to prevent that we’ll ever feel like this again.
Even if I’d found a way to work through my loneliness at school, would I get pangs of it again? Course!
9. Ask yourself: How did eating ‘help’ with my feeling?
It’s hard to see any advantages to eating problems, but food always buys you something. There’s more to it than just ‘comfort’.
If you’re confused, a treat might give you a focus.
If you’re experiencing doubt, a meal might steady you.
If you’re depressed, overeating might put you to sleep.
Figure out what you really need. Then ask yourself: what’s a better way to give myself that?
10. Do some de.li.cious eating.
Dispel food’s negative associations. You might feel like food is scarily pleasurable, but it’s natural to like eating, so go with it.
Food is yummy so that you’ll eat it and survive, just as sexual ecstasy is nature’s incentive to reproduce.
Enjoy it more. Hide your gadgets, and get present with the physical sensations of eating, one gorgeous bite at a time.
11. Become a positively emotional eater!
Eating isn’t just tasty, it’s meaningful. It can be a celebration, a homecoming. It can return us to our sensuality, create romance, set the scene for an awesome conversation. And when we eat alone, it’s an intimate encounter with our own body.
We’re human – we’re wired to be hungry for love. Feed yourself with gratitude, relaxation, self-care, responsibility, and tuning in. @lifecoach_laura (Click to Tweet!)
Laura Lloyd is a certified food sanity coach, as well as an illustrator. You can grab your free copy of her book, How to Ditch Dieting, Love Your Body & Be Your Best Weight Always at http://www.lauralloyd.co/gift.
Image courtesy of Nina Harwick © Laura Lloyd all rights reserved.