The first step to handling emotional eating (or other eating disorder behavior) is to identify your emotional eating triggers. Below are some ways in which emotions can be masked as emotional eating (or other eating disorder behavior).
Loneliness: Using food to keep yourself company or to help fill the empty void you feel inside.
Boredom: Filling the empty time through bingeing and purging.
Depression: Seeking comfort or a boost in mood by abusing food.
Anesthesia: Using food as a tranquilizer or to put yourself to sleep.
Transition: Using food between activities to help you switch gears.
Fatigue: Using food to refuel yourself rather than resting.
Lack of Structure: Using food to replace the missing structure of the week, especially at night, on the weekends, or on breaks from work or school.
Separation/Abandonment: Using a connection with food to avoid feeling the pain of rejection or the loss of a loved on.
Procrastination: Using eating to avoid or postpone the anxiety of an undesirable task.
Fear of Showing Vulnerability: Overeating, restricting, or purging to avoid expressing or showing one’s pain.
Avoidance of Intimacy: Using food or obsessing about it to avoid physical, emotional, or social intimacy with someone else out of fear or rejection/abandonment and lack of trust.
Anger: Using eating disorder behavior to discharge angry feelings.
Resentment:“Swallowing” resentments and detouring them through eating disorder behavior rather than confronting them directly.
Happiness: Believing that happiness is limited, undeserved, or to too good to be true, which then leads to eating disorder behavior.
Disappointment: Using food to make it up to yourself for feeling deprived.
Jealousy: Using food to deal with issues involving competition, envy, or distrust.
Fear/Anxiety: Using food to deal with issues involving one’s insecurities, worries, or personal phobias.
Guilt/Shame: Using food to deal with feelings of self-reproach or a belief that one’s behavior has lost the respect of someone else.
To begin to identify the emotions that trigger emotional eating (or other eating disorder behavior), write down what emotions you were feeling prior to and after you engage in an eating disorder behavior. Seeing your habits in black and white might help you identify patterns to emotional triggers. Once you have the triggers identified, you can use this to become more mindful of potentially triggering situations so that you can plan alternative activities to eating disorder behavior (read about coping skills here ).
Remember: Recovering from an eating disorder takes time and practice. The more you practice this skill, the more useful and helpful it will become over time in learning to abstain from eating disorder behavior.