#emotional-eating

Try These Powerful Tools to Stop Emotional Eating

Angie Viets - Emily Fonnesbeck - Stop Emotional Eating

Try These Powerful Tips to Stop Emotional Eating

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD

Food is social, it holds memories, and we feel comfort, satisfaction and pleasure from it. In that way, we all are emotional eaters to a certain extent. Emotional Eating only becomes an issue when we use food as the only way to consistently distract from or numb uncomfortable emotions.

It’s much more common than some realize, and can feel absolutely overwhelming to the person trying to make sense of it. It’s really easy to blame the food and become rigid and restrictive with what foods are allowed in the house or on a diet plan.

Unfortunately, this only works to increase emotional distress, feelings of deprivation and cravings for the very foods that may be felt to be problematic. Restriction breeds rebellion.

In my experience there are two ways to work effectively with emotional eating. They complement and support each other while also being their own unique skill or tool.

1. Feel the emotion

Imagine that a 2-year-old is trying to get your attention. She may start by saying your name or tapping you on the leg. What happens if you don’t answer? If you have experience with 2-year- olds, you know that she gets louder and louder and more obnoxious until you answer. However, if you had responded the first time, it’s likely she just needed to be listened to, validated, helped and then sent on her way.

The same could be said for your feelings and emotions. The more you ignore them, the bigger they get. The middle part of your brain, called the limbic system, is responsible for processing emotions.

In his book Mindsight”, Dr. Dan Siegel, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, teaches the reader about a technique called “name it to tame it.”

Neuroscience has found that naming the emotion like “I feel sad” can actually decrease the stress response in the brain. When you name it, your brain increases soothing neurotransmitters that are sent to your limbic system to calm it down. The very act of moving toward the emotion, naming it and aiming to understand it decreases its power over you.

A big hurdle to doing this is the common propensity of judging yourself for how you feel. Maybe you feel like you shouldn’t feel frustrated so you avoid acknowledging it. Maybe you feel like you should feel happy so you avoid acknowledging your true emotion. Separate who you are from what you feel.

 
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Please note that in our “name it to tame it” example above, we used the phrase “I feel sad” not “I am sad.” Feelings, thoughts, and emotions are only activity of the mind, not who you are. Acknowledging them gives you a chance to be transparent, honest and authentic and move toward growth and healing.

Another hurdle is identifying how you truly feel. If you say “I am angry” and don’t feel the calming neurotransmitters doing their job, it may be because you didn’t identify the true emotion.

Maybe you feel hurt, which is making you feel angry. Aim to understand and validate rather than judge and react.

Why is feeling the emotion important? Because if you can move toward the emotion, then you won’t need to move way from it — and toward food.

2. Avoid emotional reactivity

The second technique may seem to be at odds with the first. We aren’t trying to avoid emotions, just avoid letting them get to a point where they feel unmanageable. In working with clients I find there are very specific triggers for emotional reactivity.

First, you don’t stand a chance against emotional eating if you aren’t eating consistently, regularly and adequately. It’s very difficult to think cohesively, rationally and clearly when you are overly hungry. Our brains only burn glucose for energy, so if blood sugar levels are dropping, you can expect that not much fuel is getting to your brain. If you are prone to emotional eating already, feeling overly hungry just creates the perfect storm.

Eat balanced meals (carbohydrate, protein, fat, fruit and/or vegetable) three times a day, adding snacks between if meals are longer than three to four hours apart. I am certain that you will feel more level-headed in many areas, including with food. Skipping meals might make you feel like you are saving time, but I assure you it’s only backfiring.

Second, establish clear work-life boundaries. If life feels out of balance, it’s easy to become burned out, drained and reactive. If you are strung out in all other areas of your life, it's easy to let food become the place where you throw caution to the wind and unwind. Set clear work-life boundaries and be sure to include time for your own personal hobbies and passions. Be realistic and appropriate in setting those boundaries, but do set them.

I would also recommend setting a clear boundary that establishes body autonomy. This would mean letting loved ones know that you prefer them to refrain from making comments about your food or your weight (and ideally theirs too). Too often those comments can feel triggering, elicit feelings of shame and often send individuals toward food and emotional eating behaviors. Keep yourself safe by setting appropriate boundaries.

Third, find ways to be proactive in self-care to avoid “crisis mode.” You can handle what life throws at you if you cultivate resilience regularly. This will mean different things to different people, but some good examples might include taking regular breaks during the day to get up and stretch, turning on music while you work.

Put a project aside for a bit to work on something less draining (but that lets you still feel productive), practice time management by planning your day ahead of time, start your day with meditation and/or prayer to feel connected and grounded, eat meals away from your desk, set regular sleep patterns and make time for physical activities you enjoy.

Your emotions, feelings and well-being matter. Being too busy for them or pretending they don’t matter is likely manifesting in emotional eating. See it as a sign that coping strategies and self- care behaviors are inadequate and take steps to support yourself.

 
Angie Viets, LCP, CEDS - Emily Fonnesbeck

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD is a Registered Dietitian who owns her own private practice in southern Utah. Her nutrition passion consists of helping individuals free themselves from diets, disordered eating, food anxiety, poor body image and obsessive exercise. She has a non-diet, weight-neutral, client-centered approach to help people make peace with food and live confident, healthy and satisfying lives.
Visit her website. 

 

Is There a Perfect Way to Eat?

Photo Credit:  Rachael Gorjestani

Photo Credit: Rachael Gorjestani

In my practice as a Registered Dietitian, I talk a lot about food. Clients ask about which foods to eat, how much to eat, when to eat… Many are extremely confused with the information they have gotten from friends, family, colleagues, healthcare providers and the media. It can certainly be challenging to make food choices when we are always bombarded with conflicting information.

It can be both reassuring and unsettling to know this truth:

There is no single way of eating that will work for everyone.

Often, this is not what people want to hear. Instead, they want the magic formula that will give them health and happiness. Unfortunately, I can’t provide this (and nobody can, no matter how good their marketing is!).

Instead, I can offer support, compassion, and guidance. Although everyone’s needs are different, here are some general themes I address with many clients.

1. Eating on a regular basis

For most people, having regular meals and not going too long without food is beneficial. While needs vary greatly, more than 4-5 hours without eating is detrimental in many cases. Not everyone will require snacks, but they can certainly be helpful. Explore what works best for you based on your schedule, your preferences, and your body’s needs.

2. Being curious about your body’s signals

Our body gives us many clues regarding our needs. If you are in the early stages of healing from an eating disorder or chronic dieting, you may find that your hunger and fullness cues are unreliable or simply non-existent. This is quite normal. At first, you may need more structure around meals. However, you can still try tuning in to see what your body is telling you. Maybe you are tired and need more rest, or maybe you are thirsty and need hydration. Be curious about what your body is telling you. It’s smarter than you think!

3. Eating a variety of foods

One of our best ways to ensure we are getting enough nutrients is to diversify the foods we eat. It sounds overly simple, but getting foods from a variety of sources can be helpful and ultimately, much more satisfying. For many healing from eating disorders, food choices can become very limited. When you feel ready, and if you are able, connect with a therapist or dietitian who can guide you in experimenting with fear foods in a safe way.

The bottom line

There is no such thing as the perfect way to eat. What works for one person may be completely inappropriate for someone else. Explore your needs and wants, and try noticing what works for you. What brings you the most energy, the most happiness? This is most likely what is best for YOU.

Remember: You are doing the best you can. You’ve got this!

Josée Sovinsky is a passionate Registered Dietitian working in a community setting in Toronto, Ontario. After facing her own struggles with disordered eating during her degree, she developed a strong interest in helping those affected by eating disorders and mental illness. She decided to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, which now strongly guide her work. She dreams of a world free from mental health stigma, body shaming, and disordered eating. When she is not helping others make peace with food, she enjoys baking, photography and doing yoga in her living room. Visit Josée's website and connect with her on social media.

How Emotional Eating is Serving You

Emotional eating is usually seen in a bad light. We often hear how eating when stressed, bored or lonely is damaging and should be eliminated. Many articles have been written about how to stop eating emotionally. In fact, when I was doing research to write this piece, I really struggled to find any references that wrote about emotional eating in a positive tone.

However, despite emotional eating’s bad reputation, it’s important to acknowledge the ways it actually serves us. Emotional eating has a purpose, and it’s not a bad one.

1. Food is Comfort

There is a reason many turn to food when uncomfortable or distressed: food is comforting. This is one of the reasons parents often offer food to children who are sad or distraught. It temporarily numbs our discomfort and makes us feel good. While it won’t eliminate the cause of this discomfort, it distracts us from the challenging situation we are encountering. It provides relief and a sense of calm. This characteristic of food is not a bad one. In fact, it allows us to cope with life’s difficulties.

2. An Act of Self-Care

Emotional eating can become a problem when we think of it as being something bad or sinful. After engaging in emotional eating, many are ridden with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. I often hear clients speaking about how horrible they feel after these experiences. In a culture that paints emotional eating as a bad thing, I can certainly understand these feelings. It can be helpful to work on changing our mentality and realizing that eating emotionally is a form of self-care. In fact, it’s just one of the many ways you can use to feel safe and protect yourself.

3. An Opportunity to Learn

I often talk to clients about how it can be helpful to have a toolkit of comforting activities to turn to in moments of distress. Emotional eating can most definitely be one of those tools. Next time you engage in emotional eating, take time to notice what is happening inside of you instead of being self-critical. Note what needs are not being met and what feelings are causing you discomfort. This is a wonderful opportunity to be curious about your experience.

The Bottom Line

It can be very healing to work on accepting our emotional eating behaviors. It allows room for curiosity, compassion, and self-love, while fighting off feelings of guilt and humiliation. You are doing your best to take care of yourself and that is always something to celebrate. 

Josée Sovinsky is a passionate Registered Dietitian working in a community setting in Toronto, Ontario. After facing her own struggles with disordered eating during her degree, she developed a strong interest in helping those affected by eating disorders and mental illness. She decided to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, which now strongly guide her work. She dreams of a world free from mental health stigma, body shaming, and disordered eating. When she is not helping others make peace with food, she enjoys baking, photography and doing yoga in her living room. Visit Josée's website and connect with her on social media.