How to stop emotional eating

Today we are looking at emotional eating. The current pandemic is enough to start anyone on an emotional eating journey, but what is an emotional eater and how you can stop being one? To get started take a look at the Emotional Eaters Bingo quiz below to find out if you are indeed an emotional eater. Meet me back once you’ve done the quiz and we’ll look at your results.

Click on the image if you want to save or print it.

The results

So now that you’ve completed the quiz, how did you get on? Are you surprised with the result or is it exactly what you thought it would be?

0 to 5

If you find yourself in the first results categories then you are doing OK. Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just try and not make it your ‘go-to’ response to emotional issues.

6 to 8

If you find yourself in the top (or bottom depending on how you see the world) category, like me, then you are an emotional eater. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy, sad, bored, angry or any other emotion, you will always find a reason to eat. You often find that whatever food you eat just doesn’t satisfy you. And you frequently hear that open packet of whatever ‘calling’ from the cupboard or fridge.

What is emotional eating?

The best definition of emotional eating I’ve come up with is this, “using food other than how it is intended (i.e. for nutritional purposes) to alter your state of mind”. So, this might be if you’re distracting yourself from a negative situation at work say. Or, on the flip side, using food to reward yourself for a positive situation.

How to spot emotional hunger?

  • Emotional hunger comes on very rapidly, unlike natural hunger which builds up over time as you digest your previous meal.
  • Emotional hunger is a nagging feeling that needs to be satisfied immediately.
  • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.
  • Both emotional eating and hunger trigger powerlessness and feelings of being out of control.

How do I stop emotional eating?

Well first you need to see what gets you reaching for the biscuit tin; in other words, finding out what your triggers are. One of the best way to do this is by keeping an emotional eating diary for (at least) the next 21 days. Now before I go any further I want to stress that this IS NOT a food diary. You should not be concerned about WHAT you’re eating and all the rubbish that goes with calorie counting etc. No, you are interested in WHY you’re eating. BIG DIFFERENCE!

So, when you feel like reaching for FOOD write down EXACTLY how you’re feeling in that moment. Be as descriptive as you can be. Talk about all the things that led up to the point where you wanted to sooth yourself with food.

Your triggers could be…

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Habit
  • PMT/ Period/ menopause
  • External/ or social influences

Now that I know my triggers, what do I do next?

By looking back over the days that you have kept this diary you will be able to see a pattern emerging of when you soothe with food, and what the triggers are. And once you know what your triggers are you can look at ways of tackling them.

Before I continue, I want to say that I appreciate that there can be some very complex issues as to why someone eats emotionally and the list of activities described below isn’t design to trivialise them in any way. These are some of the things – or combination of things – that have helped me along my emotional eating journey. These include;

  • Call or FaceTime someone who always makes you feel better.
  • Watch something that makes you belly laugh on TikTok, YouTube or Comedy Central to lift your mood.
  • Play with your pet if you have one.
  • Pamper yourself with a hot bath and scented candles.
  • Finish that jigsaw puzzle.
  • Read a chapter of a book.
  • Have a glass of water or a nice cuppa.
  • Try hypnotherapy.
  • Counselling.

Intuitive or Mindful eating can help your recovery

I’m willing to bet that as an emotional eater you are constantly thinking of food, except when you’re eating it. When you are eating you’re probably shovelling the food into your face at lightening speed, without tasting it, to get that dopamine high.

So the best thing, I have found is two fold.

  1. Try eating something that you fancy. Not what is at hand. Really think about what you want to eat, taking your mind off of what’s easy for shovelling
  2. Slowing down your eating. That’s right, instead of shovelling in the bury the feelings, slow your eating down. Really taste the food, feel the textures, smell what you’re eating and chew every mouthful. I know it sounds simple, and it is, and it works. Who knows it might be that your go to shovelling food is something that you don’t actually like!

You can even write about what you’ve tried and liked or disliked it in your trigger diary as an aid to your recovery.

And finally…

I know that emotional eating can’t be cured with the wave of a magic wand, and as I said before I totally understand that for some emotional eaters there are very complex underlying issues, that a hot bath and a cuppa won’t fix. However, for the rest of us we are ultimately using food as a crutch to help us along life’s journey to stop us dealing with situations we find ourselves in. If you are in that place, just remember, take five little minutes to change how you feel about the situation, instead of reaching for the biscuit tin. Above all though, you’ve got this, so don’t beat yourself up about it.

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