Emotional eating is when we use food to avoid negative emotions or buffering. Emotional eating is the 3rd cause of overeating, the other two are overhunger and overdesire. Emotional eating is when we numb our emotions with food and often times don’t even realize or taste what we are put in our mouths. We may feel like it is not within our control, like it is happening to us. It is a habit controlled by the primitive brain which likes to keep things status quo and not make any changes. Awareness is the key to emotional eating. There is always a thought that causes the emotion we are trying to avoid. The stress or anger, or boredom we are feeling is caused by a thought about a situation or person. We have a choice whether we continue to think that way or not. We cannot control other people but we can control how we think and feel and stop the chain reaction of emotional eating.
The battle starts when we decide to follow a healthy eating plan and don’t do mindless eating anymore. This is the river of misery when we have physical and emotional responses when we stop eating sugar and flour. Nothing has gone wrong, it is part of the process when we stop overeating. This is where we learn how to feel and allow uncomfortable urges. It can take 3-6 weeks for your hormones (insulin, leptin, ghrelin) to rebalance and dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) to heal and your taste buds to adapt.
Physical sensations we may have when decreasing sugar and flour include headaches, weakness, physical cravings, urges to overeat, hunger, slight dizziness, difficulty concentrating. Emotions we may feel include deprivation, stress, anxiety, food focused thinking, depression, loss, self pity, irritation, etc. It took about 3-4 weeks for my body to get fat adapted and then I noticed increased energy and less desire for foods not on my eating plan.
Making decisions ahead of time helps to manage the urges and emotions that come up when we don’t use food to buffer or numb our feelings. Writing down what we will eat the day before is the secret sauce of weight loss. It keeps the parent brain in charge so when the toddler brain wants to eat the chips in the pantry, the parent brain can say, that is not on my eating plan for today. I can have that tomorrow if I want but I choose to stick to my plan today. Food has no hold over you, it is neutral. Honoring your decisions ahead of time is a great way to build trust with yourself.
So what do we do when we are in the river of misery and having uncomfortable physical sensations as well as negative emotions? Practice allowing the urge to overeat because of emotions or cravings, breathing it in, allowing the feelings to pass through you without judging them or yourself. An emotion cannot hurt you. Be willing to experience both positive and negative emotions. During this process, be compassionate with yourself. Take walks, read a book, take a nap, meditate, play with your kids or animals, get out in nature, exercise, listen to a great podcast or music. Tell yourself this is temporary and soon you will be feeling more energy. You have be willing to feel uncomfortable before seeing success. As my mentor Brooke Castillo always says, “Discomfort is the currency of our dreams.”
Questions to ask to help you conquer emotional eating:
What are the emotions you try to avoid having on a daily basis? (Does not have to be deep, could be boredom)
When and how often do you normally experience these emotions?
How does overeating affect these emotions?
How does deciding not to overeat affect these emotions?
How do you feel after you have overeaten? How does it affect the emotions you ate to avoid the feeling?
What do you imagine your day would be like if you felt these emotions instead of overeating?
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