Monday, July 15, 2013

8 Practical Ways to Stop Emotional Overeating

{Photo credit to Craig Borchers}
I love to eat ice cream with my husband.  There is nothing like s’mores around a campfire.  And who doesn’t love a good steak dinner every now and then?

Eating is an emotional experience as well as a physical experience.

However, if you use food to cope with all your emotions, food will begin to take control of your life instead of enhancing the quality of your life.

Do you feel like you have a good relationship with food?

Do you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, or eating to until you are uncomfortably full?  Or do you eat too little when you are stressed out or anxious?  Do you taste your food, or do you eat without thinking?  Do you ever regret eating something?  Do you beat yourself up for overeating?

First and foremost, it is OK.  It is OK if you eat too much sometimes.  And it is OK if you eat too little sometimes.  We are human; we’re not going to have perfect eating habits.

Second, because food is such a big part of our lives (we eat three meals a day, we need food to live, and food often brings people together), I think it is important to have a peaceful relationship with food.

I want to have a normal, healthy view of eating.

For me personally, a normal relationship with food is all about peace and compassion.  It is about feeling good about my food choices and not obsessing about right and wrong.  And just as important, it is about being kind to myself when I do make mistakes or feel bad about what I ate; whether I physically feel bad, or I mentally feel guilty.  I don’t want to be anxious around food.  I don’t want to miss out on parties and gatherings because I am afraid to eat in front of people.  I don’t want to use food to comfort all my feelings.  I don’t want to eat in secret because I am ashamed of eating.  And I don’t want to let my fear of food stop me from having a fulfilling life.

Sometimes an unnatural relationship with food can lead to an eating disorder.  Not all eating disorders are characterized by starvation or purging.  Click here and here to read more about Binge Eating Disorder.

Many people, including me, use food to cope with difficult emotions, because, well, eating is an emotional experience.  Food nourishes more than just your body.  Eating food can nourish your mind, your soul, and your heart.

On the flip side, keep in mind that you can nourish yourself in many different ways.  Food is only one way we nourish ourselves.  Exercising, reading, conversations, work, prayer, creating, and other things nourish the whole self as well.

With this preface in mind, keep reading to find out 8 practical ways to stop emotional overeating:

1. Become self-aware.  Figure out your needs.  If you are feeling anxious and a little unsettled, close your eyes, put your hand over your heart and ask yourself what you truly need right now.  Maybe you need to have a conversation with your significant other.  Maybe you need to say “no” to a favor asked of you.  Maybe you need to go to bed early or take a nap.  Why?  Well, by taking a few moments to become self-aware, you might understand why you are upset or angry or scared, and you won’t immediately turn to food to comfort those uncomfortable emotions.  A lot of times, if you use food to soothe your feelings, you end up feeling worse than when you started.  You didn’t take care of your true needs so now you feel defeated because of overeating and you still feel unsettled with whatever emotion is bothering you at that time.

2. Eat with your five senses.  Eat slowly, take small bites, smell your food, notice the colors, textures and flavors.  Use all your five senses in your eating experience.  Whether you are eating a meal or a snack, you can use this technique.  Look at your food – look at the bite you are about to take, notice what it is, and ask yourself if it looks good or bad or neither.  Smell your food – smell the aromas of your plate and your surroundings, does it smell good or bad to you, ask yourself what it reminds you of because smells contain powerful memories.   Feel your food with your fingers if it is finger food – is it hot to the touch, is the steam rising up in your face, does it feel squishy or hard, do you like the way it feels in your hands?  Listen to your meal – maybe your meal is sizzling hot, and also listen to your surroundings, maybe the environment is noisy and chaotic or maybe it is completely quiet.  Last but not least, taste your food – really taste your food, ask yourself questions about it, savor each bite slowly, chew slowly and thoroughly.  Do you like it, or does your meal not taste as good as you thought it would?  If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.  If you love it, you have permission to eat a second helping.

3. Eat without distractions.  That means no iPad, computer, TV, phone, etc.  Even put down your novel.  If you want to stop emotional overeating, then you must be present each time you eat.  Mindless overeating happens most often when you are distracted by something else.  In our current society, it is really difficult to eat alone, especially in public.  I am guilty of pretending to be on my phone or my computer when I eat, because I am afraid of what other people will think of me.  Remind yourself, that you have a right to eat, and you have a right to enjoy what you are eating.  If you are distracted when you eat, then you won’t be able to recognize when you are full.  Also, you won’t be able to remember the experience of eating; therefore you are more likely to eat more and more frequently because your emotions aren’t satisfied.

4. Make yourself delicious and nutritious meals.  You don’t have to do this every day because it might get you stressed out.  However, from time to time, take the time for yourself and make a meal you love.  Maybe you don’t even know what you love.  Figure out what your favorite foods.  What are you craving right now at this moment?  Do you want a hearty, home-cooked beef stew?  Or does a cucumber salad sound good?  When I first started “intuitive eating”, I was afraid that I would like everything.  I was afraid that, if I gave myself permission to eat, that I would eat everything in sight.  Well, I was partly right because I discovered there were few foods I wouldn’t try at least once, but I don’t like everything.  I don’t like some things some days and other things other days.  And I don’t eat everything in sight either.  Because I am aware of what I need and aware of what I eat, I am satisfied and can move on to other things.

5. Remind yourself that you do not have to earn the right to eat food.  We eat food to live and to enhance the quality of our life.  It’s a necessity and a pleasure.  You DON’T have to exercise first, you DON’T have to skip a few meals in between, and you DON’T have to “make up” for the calories you eat.

6. Give yourself permission to eat ANY food.  Food is good.  There are NO bad foods.  Remind yourself as often as it takes that you can eat later if you get hungry again.  You will not eat the whole batch of chocolate chip cookies tonight, if you have permission to eat some again tomorrow.  You are allowed to have food preferences.  And you NEVER have to apologize for what you eat.  There are no set rules that everyone must follow.  When it comes to food, you have to figure out what is good for you.

7. Take time for yourself.  Take a bath or a shower, get a massage, curl up with a good book, or listen to classical music.  Go to a local cafĂ© and sit on a sidewalk seat with a cappuccino.  If you tell yourself that you do not have the time then you will believe that excuse.  But if you make yourself a priority, you will magically find the time.  No need to feel guilty.  Taking care of yourself will make you a better person.  If you take time for yourself, you will be a better wife, friend, mother, worker, giver, teacher, etc.  If you are having a difficult time taking care of yourself first, treat yourself like your own best friend.  Imagine you are on the outside looking in on your life.  Be kind and compassionate to yourself.  Treat yourself with the love you would show to another loved one.

8. Practice relaxation techniques.  Slowing down is one of the most effective ways to stop emotional overeating.  Stress does crazy things to our bodies.  It messes with our hormones and brain chemicals and makes us do stuff we wouldn’t normally do.  Relaxing for only 20 minutes a day will help you make better decisions not only about food but also about life in general.
The bottom line is to remember that life is not perfect.  You are not perfect, and I am not perfect.  We are human - we’re not going to have perfect eating habits.  But if you follow these steps, I guarantee you will have a better relationship with food and a more nourishing life.

If you liked this post, check out these articles with similar topics:
Relaxation, the Remedy for the Modern World
10 Reasons to Give Up Dieting
Intuitive eating - One Way to Stop Emotional Overeating
How to Stop Binge Eating

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