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The Truth About Emotional Eating

The past few months have been really hard for me.  This isn’t easy to share, but I want to be completely honest with my followers and how I deal when it comes to emotional eat.  

I’ve been dealing with chronic pain for about a year now which lead to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia earlier this year.  I’ve really struggled with not feeling myself, trying to get used to my new normal, and much more.  I’ve been on multiple medications and I’ve gained over 40 lbs.  As a health coach, this is really embarrassing for me and I feel like a total fraud.  To think that a year ago I was doing P90X on a daily basis and looking great and now there are days I can hardly get out of bed.  

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety off and on for years, but it has been magnified over the past few months.  And when I get into this dark place, I eat.  I turn to food for comfort.  This is something else I’ve really struggled with because I’m also a perfectionist and feel like a total hypocrite when I’m working with clients on this same issue.  

Here’s the truth:

Sometimes food helps.

Emotional eating isn’t always something to be avoided. You turn to food for a reason: because it’s fast, easy, and short-term effective. It’s one tool amongst many others and the problems only start when you’re using food

  1. as your only coping strategy,
  2. as a long-term solution,
  3. and you have a problem with it.

I recently went back to working with a coach on my emotional eating and I was surprised to hear her tell me that not all emotional eating is a problem. Sometimes it’s serving a very real and immediate purpose and helping in way that other strategies may not.

Should it be the only long-term coping strategy?

No.

Should you feel bad about using it strategically during times of need?

Definitely not.

Why I’m telling you this

I don’t want to give the impression that there’s some magic pill when it comes to emotional eating.  You do the work once and you never have to do it again.  Clearly, I’m a good example of someone who didn’t cure my emotional eating problems the first time around (or the second, or the third…).

And I guess that’s what I’m trying to say:

Sometimes there are bigger issues, and more important things to do, than try to control your eating.

For me, it was trying to get out of bed to me a mom to my boys, even if that meant eating out 3 meals a day because I didn’t have the energy to cook.  

 

What I’ve learned about emotional eating.

So many times, clients ask for my help with emotional eating, saying things like

  • My dad just died and I can’t stop eating. How do I control it?
  • My husband and I just separated and I’m eating way too much. How do I stop?
  • I’ve just had my third miscarriage and all I want is cake all the time. What do I do?

What do you do? How do you stop?

You don’t. You’ve got way more going on than cake cravings.

Emotional eating is a symptom.

If you’ve been through something, or are going through something right now, don’t add to it by beating yourself up over what you’re eating. Take comfort and relief where you can find it.

Certainly, look for and use as many healthful and nourishing coping strategies as you can – it’s definitely possible to crowd out emotional eating and make it obsolete. But don’t add to your pain, guilt, or grief by removing comfort from your life and then standing around the empty hole inside yourself trying to find something to fill it with.

 

4 Effective Non-Food Tools

Here are 4 things you can do when you’re feeling emotional. Don’t focus on taking foods away from yourself, but instead look at adding in:

1. Connection

It can be incredibly difficult to reach out and connect with other people when you’re going through hard times. God knows I’m totally guilty of this myself.  If you’re like me, you’ll probably feel like your problems aren’t worth their time, feel scared they’ll minimize your struggle or judge you, and worry about upsetting them.

But one of the most powerful questions my therapist ever asked me was “How would you feel if your friend was going through something?”. My immediate reply was that I’d want to know and help. My therapist simply suggested that I give my friends and family the chance to be there for me when I needed them, too. So give your people a chance to support you.

2. Gratitude

As much as I always thinks this sounds cheese, it really does help.  Starting wrigint down a list of things you’re grateful for.  It can be a huge boost to your mental and emotional wellbeing.

I’ve been making a point to do this every night before going to bed.

3. Exercise

I’ll admit, this is hard for me, especially on days where my body hurts everywhere.  But when it comes to our emotions, they are very ‘head-focussed’.  You can end up spending so much time feeling, analyzing, imagining, re-living, and what-if-ing. When you can start to move your body, it become a great coping still to relieve stress, help you sleep better, and it’s a great coping skill.

 4. Meditation

Take some time to get grounded.  Take some deep breaths and focus inward.  I’ll admit, that I’m not an expert at meditation.  With two young boys at home with me, it’s not always easy to find the time to sit and focus on my own personal self-care.  But I’m learning that it’s essential to my mental and physical health.

I like to find downloads on iTunes to follow along. Having someone else tell you what to think for a while is a huge relief. It doesn’t have to be long, just 5-10 minutes a day.  I like to diffuse some frankincense to help me focus and feel grounded.  I do this in the evening before bed to help me sleep better and in the mid-afternoon when I’m struggling to get through the afternoon because of brain fog.  It helps me find other ways of coping without turning to my go-to sugary sweets.  

The Bottom Line

Be gentle with yourself and focus on what you can bring into your life instead of what you want to shut out.

And if you’re struggling with emotional eating, find someone that can support you.  Maybe that’s a friend, a therapist or a health coach.  Online, in person, whatever works, but getting the help when you need it is one of the biggest acts of self-care you can gift yourself with.

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