Emotional eating is something so many of us deal with on a daily basis, yet we tend to shy away from talking about it or even acknowledging it. Using food for feelings of comfort, security, happiness or excitement is so deeply ingrained in our culture that you might not even notice it anymore, until it becomes exaggerated as a coping mechanism when you’re stressed or depressed.
I didn’t realize I had an unhealthy relationship with food until it really started taking over my life while I was going through a tough transition period. I was using food to soothe and calm me, but the irony of it all was that it did no such thing: it only exacerbated my problems.
There was a time when I would find myself eating between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day in nuts, nut butter, and anything else I could get my hands on, just to numb the negative thoughts. It was odd to watch myself relying so heavily on food to fix my emotions and my life when I knew intellectually it didn’t hold any of the answers I was seeking.
Developing a healthy relationship with food can be tough, especially when we’ve been conditioned by our culture to equate food with fun, relaxation and so many other positive emotions. While everyone’s diet, lifestyle and health journey is different, for me personally, it definitely wasn’t sustainable for me to continue using food to alter my emotions.
I knew I had to change, and it wasn’t going to happen by reading a diet book or trying a new healthy recipe. I needed to change from the inside so I could let go of the unhealthy habits on the outside.
I’m still working on it, and finding balance with food will probably be a lifelong process. But here are some of the things that helped me ease away from overeating and emotional eating issues (please keep in mind this post is not a substitution for medical/psychological advice. It’s simply me sharing the things that have worked for me on my personal journey):
1. Find out what isn’t working in your life.
For so long, I beat myself up trying to be happy with the way things were. I knew happiness came from inside, and I told myself I “should” be grateful and at peace with what was. However, there were some things in my life that simply weren’t working, and I was sticking with them because of fear. I thought that I had to stay stuck in a particular situation because there were no other alternatives for me, even though it was seriously bringing me down and holding me back. In this case, I did have to change something external in my life to promote healing and a more balanced lifestyle. I had learned so much about going inside and being happy no matter what was going on outside me that I had forgotten that I had the power to change my own life. Sometimes, issues like emotional eating are trying to tell us something or prompt us to make real, tangible changes in our lives.
2. Pursue your passions.
When I’m writing, reading, or listening to some really inspiring podcast, I don’t feel the need to graze the snack cupboard at all. Getting into the flow of the things that light my soul on fire is seriously a gamechanger for me in terms of overeating. For a while, I felt like food and alcohol were the only things that were making me happy, but now I’m realizing that when I cut myself off from the things that truly feed my soul (for me they’re reading, writing, creating and going to movement classes) I need to turn to destructive vices just to feel okay. When I was overeating, I was uninspired, bored and I felt like I was just “existing” instead of working towards a purpose or feeding my desire for knowledge. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, do that thing that makes you forget about everything because you’re so consumed by it. Then you’ll be in flow and you won’t need to cling to a vice.
3. Stop the negative self-talk.
I still struggle with this every day! Stop telling yourself you’re not skinny enough, not doing enough with your life, not this enough, not that enough. Even if you aren’t currently reaching your potential, it won’t serve you to continue replaying the same old story in your head day in and day out. I found whenever I was telling myself I was fat, it only made me want to eat more, whereas if I felt good about myself and my body, I didn’t feel the need to overeat. If I thought I was fat already, then I would just say “ah, screw it” and eat a bunch of stuff I didn’t need, almost as a punishment. It was like I was telling myself, “you want to be fat? I’ll show you fat!” And it all kept perpetuating the same vicious cycle in my head. (I know the word ‘fat’ is harsh and cringey, but I’m using it to illustrate how mean I was to myself!). If you struggle with this, start by meditating or doing some yoga just to calm the thoughts and dissociate from them a little bit – I found this helped me a lot. I recently wrote a post on becoming more mindful of the thoughts you’re thinking, so check it out for some tips on how to be more conscious. You could also try reframing the situation you’re in by telling yourself you’re working towards xyz, instead of dubbing yourself a failure, period.
4. Believe it’s possible to completely change your relationship with food.
I think one of the biggest things that held me back from letting go of overeating was the belief that I would never achieve such a lofty goal. I was a total defeatist, and I was ready to accept my fate as an emotional eater forever. Every day I would say “okay, today I’m sticking to my diet,” only to end the day with another binge. It wasn’t until I started to shift my beliefs around what was truly possible that I started to see the light. Even if everyone around you is an emotional eater, it doesn’t mean you have to be one, too. Start by accepting the idea that you can develop a healthier relationship with food, and it will seem like less of an insurmountable problem.
Have you ever struggled with emotional eating? What are your tips?