Emotional eating is very real and prevalent today -- especially in the wake of coronavirus, chaos, and uncertainty.
Food, in its most basic form, is meant to be our fuel. It’s what literally keeps us alive. Eons ago, it meant survival. When food was so much more scarce (in the hunting and gathering sense), it brought about comfort and security once it was found. It meant the hunter would survive.
Today, food scarcity does still exist. For most of us, though, food has become fairly accessible. But the acknowledgement that an abundance of food does exit doesn’t dispel the comfort it gives us when we consume it. In fact, it can do the exact opposite: knowing that a certain type of food will make us feel a particular way can lead us to seek out food as comfort, when the true source of comfort is rooted somewhere else entirely.
Some days, a piece of pizza really is what you may want. Or maybe it’s a donut. Whatever that comfort food may be, it is truly where you want to find comfort. We’re all human! We want to enjoy the little delights of modern food, in moderation and from time to time.
The problem occurs when we can’t differentiate between genuinely wanting a treat-yourself moment and simply reaching for the bag of chips out of a need for distraction or any other deep-rooted emotion. By paying attention to our emotional-eating tendencies, we can become more aware of when it’s happening, and choose a different path, one more suited to soothing those current emotions.
4 Steps to Reduce Emotional Eating
1. Identify the emotion
When you are suddenly overcome with an urge to eat an entire pint of ice cream, take a moment to consider that there may be an underlying emotion tied to that impulsive feeling. Are you feeling tired? Are you burnt out, overwhelmed, or exhausted? Are you worried? Maybe the urge is being caused by anxiety or stress? Are you sad? Did something make you feel upset, depressed, hopeless?
If you land on a certain emotion that you’re also feeling in that same moment, then consider whether or not eating will give you a desired solution for that emotion.
2. Consider your needs
Identifying an emotion may or may not come easy, so it’s also important to assess your current needs. Are you needing balance in your life right now? Do you want more peace, stability, or predictability? Maybe it’s distraction: you need fun, adventure, spontaneity. Something to shake things up. Do you just need to feel good? Do you need laughter, sunshine, human touch?
What is it that you need right now and how can you get it? Will the pint of ice cream get you there, or is it something else entirely?
3. Determine the fix
You’ve given yourself the time and space to think this through. This is most important. Because emotional or stress eating so often coincides with mindless eating: all of a sudden you find that you’ve eaten an entire bag of Doritos with no idea of how you got there.
Being mindful and present about your emotions and needs is key in determining whether or not you should keep going with your urge. And again, sometimes you should! There may be no emotion involved, no need involved other than you simply wanting that piece of chocolate. Just make sure you are consciously choosing to have it and that it’s not stemming from a deeper need for something else.
4. Reflect on the outcome
Whether you chose the treat or found a different source of comfort, take some time to recognize the result. How do you feel? Are you content with your choice? Did it help? Did it hurt? Did the strategy you chose lead you to an end result that you’re happy with?
If you’re pleased with the outcome, congratulate yourself! Take the time to applaud yourself for cluing into your feelings. And if you’re not, ask yourself why, and give yourself grace. This is just a moment in time -- but also, a chance to learn from yourself. Once you realize what you’ve learned, applaud yourself.
Our coping mechanisms will get messy from time to time, and that’s normal. Especially now. Know that you can learn from every situation; continue to listen to yourself and your needs. Once you build up that intuitive trust with yourself, you’ll be able to reduce unconscious, unaware, and mindless emotional eating.