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Overcoming Emotional Eating
You don’t feel happy, so you eat to help make yourself feel better. Then, feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and shame set in as you see your eating as a failure or a sign of weakness. Then, you find yourself not feeling happy, so you eat again.
This cycle is familiar to many people, especially those battling emotional eating related to or unrelated to their type-2 diabetes. Emotional eating is the notion that you use food to achieve emotional goals instead of sustaining your physical health. Instead of being only the fuel that keeps your body and your mind going strong, food transforms into so much more. It is your friend, your shoulder to cry on, your pick-me-up and your worst enemy.
By now, you have realized that emotional eating has entered your life because of signs like:
- Eating when you are not hungry.
- Eating more than you intended to.
- Finishing something without even remembering eating it.
- Making consistently poor food choices that endanger your health.
- Feeling excessive guilt and shame after eating.
- Eating to feel better.
- Eating to distract yourself from a feeling, a situation, or boredom.
Having the awareness that emotional eating is a problem is an incredibly important accomplishment along the path to change. Without the realization that your patterns are unhealthy, there is no possible way to find improvement.
The Practical Side
Moving forward with the process of overcoming emotional eating, you must set yourself up for success. Take a look around your home. Is the environment conducive to healthy food choices, or are your pantries overflowing and your fridge busting at the seams with unhealthy food options? Relying on the myth of willpower will only lead to disappointment.
Clear the cabinets and reduce the contents in the refrigerator to give yourself a chance to make better choices when the time comes. The same can be done with your other food triggers, including your normal commute and the ways you socialize with friends.
If you pass seven eateries on your way home, you will be more likely to stop at one. Consider a different route. If you meet with friends only in settings that revolve around food, it may feel like a choice between socialization and emotional eating. Instead, find new ways to socialize without the food by choosing healthier activities and outings.
The Emotional Side
Some people mistakenly want to focus on only the practical aspects of emotional eating. They think that if they can change their environment enough, they can eliminate the eating. This will result in some success, but to change emotional eating, you have to target the emotions.
Why are you overeating? What do you hope it gets you? How did this begin and for how long has it been going on? How do you feel when the eating is over?
The responses to all of these questions are valuable, but they can be elusive. To better manage the emotional aspect of your eating, consider seeking treatment from a mental health therapist. A therapist can assess your situation to provide a range of options that you have never contemplated. A therapist can help process your feelings and work to uncover the roots of your emotional eating.
Along the way, a mental therapist may discuss the need for changed coping skills. Coping skills are the tools you use to manage unwanted feelings and symptoms like stress. Right now, eating might be your primary coping skill. In the continuum of coping skills, emotional eating is better than using drugs and alcohol, but not as positive as other alternatives.
Healthier coping skills include exercise, spending time with friends, journaling, and distraction with TV, movies, or music. The options for positive coping skills are only limited by your creativity.
If you are interested in at-home options to manage your emotional eating while you wait to begin your mental health treatment, you may be interested in mindful eating. In many ways, emotional eating could be considered mindless eating because you may do it as a reflex rather than as a well-thought-out option. Would you like to eat in a mindful way? Here’s how:
- Slow down. Much of emotional eating happens very quickly as a response to a sudden life stress or a chronic problem that has reached a breaking point. By slowing down, you give yourself a chance to consider your reactions and your response to the situation. You can work to understand why your initial reaction is to eat something and what you think will come from this behavior. Slowing down reduces impulsivity and gives you a chance for success.
- Unitask. Where do you do your emotional eating? Are you watching TV from the couch or sitting at the table reading a magazine? Are you eating while driving or while talking on the phone? Eating is important enough to require your full attention. Any time you are eating, you should only be eating. Multitasking is the enemy of mindfulness, which means it is the friend of emotional eating. Let eating be the only thing.
- Plan meals. Following a frustrating day at work or a negative event in your life, the last thing you want to do is to decide what to eat for dinner. You are more likely to make poor, emotionally-driven food choices when nothing is prepared. By planning meals for the day or week, you give yourself options based on rationality and forethought as you think positively about food. Having them handy and available will increase the likelihood that you skip the emotional eating.
- Savor your food. When is the last time that you genuinely enjoyed what you ate? When people eat quickly or emotionally, the food becomes lost in the process. Try the exercise of sitting at a table, removing all distractions, and eating an orange. The progression of the peeling, splitting, and eating an orange can be a very pleasurable experience when you take time to be mindful. Incorporating all of your senses will aid in the experiment. Be sure to inspect the sight of your fruit, feel the peel, hear it split, smell the citrus aroma, and taste the sweet flavor. This mindful eating exercise will serve as an antidote to emotional eating.
Many people have been eating emotionally for as long as they can remember. For you, the risk of emotional eating with your diabetes is too great and too big to manage alone. Involving a mental health therapist can target the underlying issues while you work on the practical changes. In the meantime, try some mindful eating skills to combat the emotional side. By changing the way you see food, you can change the way your see yourself.