Have you ever found yourself rooting around in the pantry looking for something sweet after a particularly hard day? Maybe thinking about a big bowl of ice cream after a disagreement with a co-worker? Perhaps you have found yourself eating chips out of the bag while staring off into the distance, quietly crunching as your mind wanders through all the ups and downs of the past hours, days or weeks?
If you answered yes to any of these, you have experienced emotional eating.
Emotional eating…what’s that?
Quite simply, emotional eating is a coping mechanism that we often turn to that helps us calm down, feel better and reward ourselves. Everyone, at one time or another has eaten emotionally. It’s a part of life.
From the start of life, food is a comfort to us. A baby cries and bottle/breast is given to calm, soothe the child. Fall down in the driveway and skin your knee, here is a lollipop to make you feel better. Do well on a test and pizza is the reward. Of course, we all know the old ‘my boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with me so I’m going to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and then I will feel better’ (I’m pretty sure this scene has played out in 80% of romantic-comedy movies).
Eating emotionally is fine to do once in awhile but, when it becomes your central tactic for handling your feelings, whether they are sad, mad, guilty, bored, stressed, etc., this is when it becomes a problem. If you find yourself always reaching for chocolate, candy, cookies, ice cream, chips, crackers, pretzels (and yes…even wine) to reward and/or soothe yourself after a particularly crappy day you may be an emotional eater.
Quick: can you name five things right now that make you feel better when things are stressful that do NOT include food? If you can, that’s great. Write them down and put them where you can see them (the front of the fridge/pantry/wine rack is a good spot) to remind you to re-direct when you get into an emotional state. I have to be honest, I had a hard time coming up with five. I had to really think about it and was surprised that I couldn’t immediately list five things that are my go-to’s when I am stressed.
After some thought, here is what I came up with:
-go on Pinterest (who doesn’t love some pretty home decorating pictures to distract you?)
-go for a walk (even five minutes up and down the driveway will give you a moment to re-direct.)
-text a friend (we all have one friend who can be there in a pinch who can give us some levity and a laugh.)
-sit and breathe for 3 minutes (I put a timer on my phone and just focus on the inhalation and exhalation of breathing over and over again.)
-watch Real Housewives of whatever….(confession, I love reality TV. I DVR the shows and watch them as a reward. They distract me and give me a needed brain break.)
Those are my five. Am I perfect? No! I have my moments just like anyone else. Like I said, everyone eats emotionally at one time or another. I should mention that I have been practicing mindful eating for the past eight years. Mindful eating is….eating with INTENTION and ATTENTION.
You start with a conversation in your head by saying:
Me: “hey, Julianne…are you truly hungry right now? Like are you physically hungry?
Me: “Mmmmm….no, not really. But I do want something sweet cause I had a particularly difficult day and I deserve it.”
Me: “ok, look, why don’t you go and watch the RHONJ and if you still want something after that, we can reconsider.”
Me: “alright that sounds good.”
Me: “hey, Julianne….are you truly hungry right now? Like physically hungry?”
Me: “well, a little and I had a terrible day and I want to chill out and take a moment.”
Me: “ok, how about we have a cup of tea and a slice of biscotti?”
Me: “that sounds great. I’m going to sit down and have this tea and biscotti with my full attention. I’m not going to be on the phone, computer, in front of the tv or driving in the car. I am going to focus and enjoy the heck out of this tea and biscotti.”
That’s mindful eating.
So my friends, the next time you find yourself reaching for the Goldfish crackers, the Oreo’s, the chocolate, or the chardonnay….ask yourself ‘am I really hungry right now or am I hungry for something else?’ or ‘should I distract myself because I really don’t need to eat/drink anything?’ or ‘should I sit down and take a moment to have what I want with full attention and understanding that my choice may not be 100% healthy, but this is ok because it’s something that I don’t do often?’.
Emotional eating doesn’t have to rule you. You can learn excellent coping mechanisms and re-order your habits by simply tuning in and being aware of emotions and moods and by having honest conversations with yourself. There are thousands of resources out there to help you cope with emotional eating. Don’t be afraid to reach out!