Do your emotions have anything to do with your weight? Is emotional eating real? Why can’t we control our eating habits?
I’m no psychologist, and I don’t attempt to play one on the internet, but I can tell you my own personal experiences and thoughts when it comes to the truth behind emotional eating, and the effect our emotions have on our ability to maintain a healthy weight, and lose weight when we need to. Emotional eating – is it real? Of course it’s real! Many of the decisions we make on a daily basis are driven by emotion, not just the food choices we make, but also how we react to various situations.
When I was growing up, I began the cycle of emotional eating without even being aware of it. When things were busy or stressful, I would drive by the convenience store and pick up a stash of chocolate and chips for a later time.
In college, as the responsibilities of adulthood loomed, eating became a solace and a comfort. Eating large amounts of food while studying for a test became the norm for me. I remember one time when one of my roommate and I ate an entire large pizza, drank a two liter container of Coke, and inhaled a package of Oreo cookies while studying. After the test the next day we went out to a buffet restaurant to celebrate the fact that the test was over!
Married life brought joy, times of adjustment, and eventually children. Marriage also brought new situations and emotions to deal with, and ultimately I gained a massive amount of weight. Not because of the marriage, but because of my inability to control my eating habits.
Here’s a list of some emotions I thought of when I was writing this post:
That’s some list isn’t it? Some good, some bad and some not so attractive. All emotions are valid and important, but how we handle our emotional eating is what will make the difference between success and failure when it comes to food. Compulsive overeating due to emotions is extremely common and difficult to control. I don’t think I would have been medically diagnosed as a compulsive overeater, but I overate constantly, mainly due to emotions rather than hunger.
If you ever watch a small toddler eat, you will notice that they eat when they are hungry, and when they are full they stop eating, or start throwing food off their tray. (If you don’t have children, trust me, this is what they do!) As children get older, they learn to eat beyond the point of fullness. That is what we do as adults – we eat when we aren’t hungry, and eat beyond physical fullness. When I started following my Fit to the Finish plan I knew I was an emotional eater. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I hadn’t gotten this big just by eating healthy portions and lots of vegetables. Acknowledgement was one thing – Action needed to be another thing. How did I go from eating at the drop of every emotion to having the ability to control my emotional eating. You will notice that I said “control” not “conquer.” I still have the desire to eat when I experience certain emotions, but I have found ways to curb that desire.
Here are some things that worked for me when trying to break some of the emotions surround food.
1. Wrote down what I was feeling when I headed to the kitchen to eat. For about two weeks at the beginning of my plan I kept a notebook on my desk in the kitchen. I had a page where I jotted down my feelings when I was beginning to notice the urge to eat something, rather be it at a meal or just additional food. By doing this I quickly saw a pattern emerge for myself. I tended to want to eat when I was: bored, anxious, feeling out of control, or excited.
2. Waited before I ate something other than a meal. I trained myself to wait about 15 minutes before eating a food that wasn’t part of a planned meal or snack. By waiting it gave me some time to evaluate what I was doing, rather than just grabbing the first thing my hand touched in the pantry.
3. Practiced hard. Over time, and with a lot of practice, I began to recognize the emotions that set off overeating for me, and I practiced dealing with those emotions in ways other than food. If I was bored, I found something to do. For example, I learned to knit and began scrapbooking. If I was anxious I called John and talked to him about my anxieties. If I was feeling out of control over a situation in my life, I tried hard to analyze what it was about the situation that I could control, if anything. Just by taking the time to deal with my emotions in a healthy manner I began learning to avoid using food to hide and soothe my emotions.
As you go about your week, I’d encourage you to closely examine how you think your emotions relate to your food choices. Maybe you aren’t an emotional eater, and maybe you are. Let me know what emotions send you to the pantry or through the drive-thru of your favorite restaurant. Maybe by sharing with each other we can all learn more strategies and tips to deal with the very real problem of emotional eating. It’s not easy to break some habits that are familiar and safe, but it is possible!