Eating when you are not physically hungry can be frustrating as well as damaging to your health and fitness goals. Afterward, you feel full, bloated and upset that you overate or binged yet again, despite your determination to not do so.
Overcoming emotional eating is very difficult and can be a constant challenge. Food is everywhere and tempts with immediate pleasure and relief. Let’s be honest, is is impossible to practice abstinence from food.
When you struggle with urges to run to the cupboard, I urge you to wait a moment or two. Use mindfulness to be in the moment and observe and describe what is happening. The pause is not about stopping you from enjoying another handful of chips, it’s about understanding the reason you are craving it.
Maybe you aren’t sure when you are physically hungry and when it is emotional. Until you learn the physical signals of hunger again, you can ask yourself questions. If you are truly hungry, you’re willing to eat a high protein food like eggs or meat. When it’s emotional hunger you probably crave carbohydrates or sweets.
Maybe you know you’re emotionally hungry rather than physically in need of nourishment. You still really want food. ACCEPT that you can sit with the urge to eat and it will pass. You don’t need to satisfy that urge. Think about the long-term consequences and how emotional eating affects you. Choose to respect your body and take good care of yourself. Frame your choice in terms of the positives rather than depriving yourself.
Awareness of the trigger for your urges is an important step in overcoming emotional eating. Here are is idea to help you identify what is behind that emotional hunger. Knowing the reason you are eating will help you find a more effective coping strategy.
1. To Avoid Unpleasant Emotions.
Maybe you had an argument with your partner or you are worried about work or finances. If this is the case, your hunger is about avoiding anxiety or sadness. Food can be soothing as well as distracting. As long as you are eating, you’ll feel some relief. The problem is that you have to keep eating. You may eat until you are miserable because the relief only lasts as long as you are chewing.
Sometimes the emotions you are avoiding can be more subtle or you don’t even notice them before you put food in your mouth. At one of our CBT workshops, a participant explained this well. “When I’m working and reach a point where I’m not sure what to do next, I often think of food. It’s not about hunger; it’s about getting rid of that anxiety of “What now?” I wasn’t even aware of this tiny moment between ending a task or a paragraph and eating until recently. Eating gives me something to be “doing” so I can stay in my comfort zone.“
Practice tolerating the emotion. Emotions will pass. They are temporary. You can also practice other coping skills, such a talking it out with someone, writing your emotions, working out, or distracting yourself. You might want to do an activity that is not compatible with eating such as taking a shower.
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