When it comes to habits that destroy your hard work and visible results, emotional eating has to be one of the worst. For many people, feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, heartbreak and even boredom, can lead to overeating which leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame lead to more stress, anxiety, and overeating. See the problem? If you are someone who seeks comfort from food, we're here to tell you that you can learn to master this habit.
What is emotional eating?
Don't think of emotional eating in strictly negative terms. In many ways, we are all emotional eaters. Think of how many of our social events center around food? When something good happens, we celebrate over dinner. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, they all involve food. It only becomes an issue when you use it to soothe negative emotions. If you base your eating habits on things that don't relate to actual hunger, you're going to have a difficult time losing weight. To determine if you may be an emotional eater, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you mindlessly eat when you are bored, looking for distraction and/or procrastinating?
- Do you reward yourself with food when you are having a good day?
- Do you look for comfort in food when you are having a bad day?
- Do you eat when you feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you sometimes eat based on emotional triggers and not actual, biological, hunger signals.
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How do we break the cycle?
As mentioned above, emotional eating creates a downward spiral that can be difficult to break. But it isn't impossible. The first step is acknowledging you are an emotional eater. It is just a habit you've learned over time and as such, it can be unlearned. Here's how:
1. Become aware of your eating patterns.
To change your patterns, you need to know your patterns. Take note of the times you eat because you feel hungry and those times you eat because you are feeling a certain way. Before you take a bite, ask yourself, "am I really hungry?" and "how will I feel after I eat this?" It will force you to examine why you are eating in the first place.
2. Learn your triggers.
Now that you have a grasp on when
you eat emotionally, it is time to look at why.
Once you know these whys, you can find more effective ways to deal with them. Try keeping a food journal. Keep track of the times you are eating or feel prompted to eat emotionally and then detail the events that led up to it. Maybe it is stress at work or an issue with your family. Whatever it is, the next time it happens, you'll have a better idea how to manage it.
3. Find something that makes you feel good (other than eating).
Now that you've identified your triggers, you need to find a new habit. Maybe go for a long walk, take a hot bath, or go sweat it out at the gym. Make a list of all the things you can do that will give you a quick boost and make you feel better. Refer to this list when you find yourself wanting to eat your emotions. Once you start performing these positive tasks, they will become habit and you'll be less likely to turn to food.
4. Ban the restrictive diets.
Restrictive diets do not help your weight loss efforts long term and they will make it easier for you to go off the rails and binge. If you don't allow yourself to have certain foods, you will want them even more. When you crave them and give in to the cravings, you are left with a big, heavy dose of guilt and disappointment. Instead of cutting yourself off from your favourite treats, find some healthy alternatives and make them your main go-to when craving strikes. And remember, there is nothing wrong with having a treat now and then. Don't make your eating habits more difficult than they need to be.
You weren't born an emotional eater, you created and learned the habit over time. You can fix it, the power is in you!
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Are you an emotional eater? How do you keep yourself in check?