In a previous post I talk about why you eat emotionally, how you develop the addiction and promised to provide some solutions. So here it is – some solid techniques that you can use to overcome emotional eating.
Please bear in mind that all eating has an emotional aspect to it, even “normal” healthy eating habits. It’s just simply interlinked with our survival mechanisms that also allow us to really enjoy eating – it makes us like eating things which give us the most nutrition.
Overcome Emotional Eating – The Methods
You can starting using the following techniques straightaway since they don’t require any special equipment or difficult preparation.
Break the cycle – Beat the stress
As I said in the previous post stress is a major contributor to irregular eating patterns because food is often what people turn to in response to stress. You might feel a loss of appetite whilst you are stressed when once that episode is over (or lessened) you’ll feel like eating.
Exercise is the key
Back in the day when humans had to “fight” physically for survival the function of stress was highly valuable, and the situation is generally resolved by some physical action – like fleeing or fighting.
The physical activity is what deals with all the hormones that are released to induce the stress response (this include cortisol), so you see exercise is the natural solution to stress.
Doing exercise frequently will make you feel much calmer and happier – in turn it’ll resolve a lot of your stress relating food cravings.
Identify your triggers – and break them
Emotional eating is obviously a kind of addiction, it’s a response to emotions. You develop the dependence on food for comfort or relieving some mild trauma through forming the habit of eating when you feel that way.
A good way to find out what makes you tick is to stop just before you’re about to eat something (outside of meal times), notice what sensations and emotions you’re experiencing.
After a few occasions you should notice a pattern and soon enough you’ll be able to “know” when you’re getting close to wanting a snack.
Using (constructive) distractions
Next time you feel the onset of a craving have something else to do instead, if you do this often enough the old habit will weaken.
It’s a BAD idea to use some other potentially harmful activity in place of snacking – that’s just exchanging an eating disorder for a different disorder.
Here are some good options:
- Drink some water – This will help reduce your hunger and it’s good for your body to stay well hydrated.
- Exercise – It makes you feel better (by releasing endorphins) and temporarily eliminates hunger.
- Go for a walk – If exercise is too much or inconvenient then go for a brisk walk, it’ll work similarly to a workout.
- Do some gardening or else – Any activity which will take your attention and direct it into something productive is good idea. Practice working on a hobby or some other project whenever you feel cravings; it’s a good idea to keep the activity physical otherwise your mind will wonder towards the food easily.
The best approach is to do a combination of things because that way you avoid forming some other specific dependence (although you could argue a productive one wouldn’t be so bad).
More formal methods
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
NLP works on the (plausible) assumptions that your behavior, responses and thought processes can be altered via communication and experience. Basically you can change your behavior or reaction to something by practicing the resulting pattern you wish. For a more in-depth description of NLP have a read of the Wikipedia page.
Here are some simple NLP techniques you can try.
Emotional replacement -Swish technique
Visualize yourself eating foods your not supposed to eat in the situation where you would be considered snacking including your emotions. Within that image visualize a smaller image of yourself doing the right thing, now quickly switch the two images around so that the large image is your doing the right thing. Now that the right thing is associated with the positive emotional response and the unhealthy habit is given less significance.
Reduce emotional response to certain foods
Picture eating your most sinful food (for me that’s a giant slice of banoffee pie with extra toffee and cream) whilst remembering how you feel when eating it. If it’s a very positive response you feel then that food item is certainly on of your favorites. Now imagine the situation in black and white whilst also adding some distasteful things to the image such as rotten fish, this should (to an extent) decouple the food item from the emotional response.
It might be quite effective to describe this to a friend who can actively describe it back to you as the undesired version. Or, you could do it for real. Get your favorite food and make it not so desirable.
Will it work?
The effectiveness of NLP depends heavily on the attitude of the individual. If you are stubborn and “stuck in your ways” then NLP techniques will probably take a lot longer to have any effect – in fact I can easily imagine you would get fed up of all the visualization malarkey. Unless you have a particularly skilled NLP practitioner this option will probably fail.
Personally I don’t think NLP is such a good idea because it depends on the assumed knowledge of what is good for you – that is very subjective, different for everyone, and there’s no solid way to determine what you should “reprogram” yourself to do/think/behave to.
Instead use some more concrete physical distractions to gradually make your current food dependent response less severe. Once you’re use to “distracting” yourself then you may then seek to use NLP to actually change the neurological pattern of craving or comfort through food.
Keep a diary
This is the best way to identify the emotions and situations that affect the way to feel about food and when you want to eat it. Here are the things you should keep track of.
- The foods that you are eating - This includes your meals as well as the snack you eat. Over a few weeks you will easily see how much you are overeating and what foods you eat a lot of. You should notice a pattern of certain food items (or types) that you eat outside of meals.
- How you are emotionally when you feel like eating - Write descriptively but concisely the emotions and sensation you are feeling before you give into the snacks. Over a short period of a few days you should be able to identify pretty much the spectrum of emotions that coincide with your food cravings.
- How you feel afterwards – Note how you feel shortly after eating, in most cases it will be more positive than before. Similarly you’ll be able to tell the shift in emotional state that’s caused by eating.
How do you put all this into practice
Well whatever methods you choose you need to stick to it properly and try your hardest or at least work up to a full effort. Trying some of the non-formal methods above is a good place to start, you don’t need to prepare anything except perhaps an activity or two. If you find that you simply can’t do it then you have bigger issues than just needing to stop compulsive emotional eating.
Let me know of any experiences you have of emotional eating as I am very interested specifically why it affects so many people. Leave a comment below and lets start a discussion.