How to Stop Emotional Eating
I’ve talked before about how I hate tracking my food. Personally, I don’t even count calories anymore. With my perfectionist personality, it actually hurts me more than it helps.
I definitely think it’s beneficial to keep a food journal of some sort for a while. It helps you understand how much all those little extra bites here and there really add up, identify triggers, and helps you create healthy habits.
Today I’m going to introduce you to a different form of tracking. I want to share with you how you can identify emotional eating triggers, but first I want to talk about the four different categories of eating.
1) Eating for NOURISHMENT
There’s no way around it, our bodies need to be nourished. Sadly, the standard American diet provides very little nourishment. Processed foods can hardly be called food. They are made up of artificial flavors and chemicals and very few of the nutrients our bodies are craving.
Eating food gives your body energy the way gas gives a car the ability to go. In order to actually nourish your body, you should eat clean foods that are nutrient dense. Things like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats are all clean. I think most of us know what kinds of food are healthy and provide nourishment.
2) Eating for FUN
Let’s tell it like it is — eating is fun! I’ve seen a lot of people write about the fact that food is simply fuel, but it’s more than that.
Food is fuel. Food is entertainment. Food is pleasure. It simply is.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite dessert — once in a while. Only about 10% of your eating should be eating for fun. The other 90% should be for nourishment. Fun food doesn’t have to nourish your body, and it usually won’t, but it sure does taste good in your mouth. Fun foods are designed for pleasure, not for nourishment. Once you give yourself permission to eat for fun, you lose all the emotional guilt and shame from eating a “bad food.”
The key to fun eating is that it has to be planned. You can’t just walk past a bowl of M&M’s in the office and grab a handful and call it your fun eating for the day. That falls under mindless eating which we’ll talk about next.
3) MINDLESS Eating
This is the first category where emotional eating falls. Mindless eating is just how it sounds — you’re eating without actively thinking about it. It can look like an extra-large tub of popcorn at the movies, chips in front of the TV, a fast food meal while driving in the car, or bites of food while cooking. It could also be grabbing a snack even though you recently finished lunch simply because you’re bored or feeling lonely.
If you’re eating when you’re not hungry and it’s not planned, it’s mindless eating. Unfortunately, a lot of us spend the majority of our time here. We eat on the run, hardly tasting our food, and before we know it we’ve eaten more than we need. We finish our plates out of habit even though we were full partway through.
As soon as you recognize you’re eating mindlessly, stop!
4) BINGE Eating
Unlike mindless eating, binge eating is intentional. You know that you’re doing it, and you don’t care, or you feel unable to stop even though you want to. Binge eating has a couple different causes. The first is that you deprive yourself of your favorite foods until you give in, feel guilty, and then decide you’ve blown it so you might as well enjoy it. Planning some fun eating can keep this from happening.
The other reason people binge eat is because of emotional hunger. It’s important to remember that you are in control of what you eat. A binge is actually a good opportunity to learn something about yourself. Anytime you eat for an emotional reason, you should take a closer look at your life and see if you can identify the trigger that led to the binge. If you track your emotional eating episodes, a pattern will begin to emerge. Once you know your triggers, you can come up with ways to avoid them or handle them when they occur.
The Emotional Eating Food Journal
While I’m not necessarily a fan of counting calories, I do think it’s good to write down what you’re eating. It helps you stay focused and make better choices. I have created an Emotional Eating Tracker for you to help you identify when you’re emotional eating. Usually emotional eating falls into the mindless or binge eating phase and there’s usually some emotions tied to it (anger, sadness, boredom, etc.)
For now, you don’t necessarily need to make any changes. Just observe and write down the trigger and the emotion you’re feeling. In a few days we’ll talk about ways to handle those triggers. Promise me you won’t skip this discovery part of the process. It’s really helpful and important. You can either track this in a notebook, on a phone app like Color Note, or download this Emotional Eating Tracker.
Join the Conversation
Do you feel like you’re an emotional eater? Do you know what your triggers are?