Turn Emotional Eating into Empowerment
Let’s turn Emotional Eating into Empowerment!
Are you stuck in the cycle of emotional eating? This is likely the most common issue that a lot of women face. Today we’ll explore specific reasons why emotional eating has you in its grips. We’ll also discover an eye-opening perspective that can transform your attitude toward food and fitness, and change your life. Let’s begin turning emotional eating into empowerment now, read on…
What is emotional eating?
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Emotional eating has to do with giving into cravings when we’re triggered emotionally. Most of us reach for “junk food” – snacks, treats, fast food and such, that contain high amounts of sugar, fat, carbohydrates and empty calories.
But why do we emotionally eat, and why is the habit so hard to break?
The physiology of emotional eating is this. Our endocrine system surges stress hormones whenever we become anxious, and the stress hormones quickly reach our nervous system and brain. Emotional situations stress us out. So, once the nervous system become flooded with stress chemicals, our mind sends us a signal. “Do something about this! I need good feelings, stat!”
The strong emotions and related stress render us confused – we can’t think straight. Our mood changes and we lose focus. The quickest but also least healthy way to fix this state of upheaval inside of our bodies is to eat sugar for an instant rush and surge of energy. The sugar delivers serotonin which calms us, or the sweet treat provides a little boost if we’re feeling low. Then we come down from the sugar high, and feel bad again. The cycle repeats.
What are Emotional Eating Disorders?
- Anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by weight loss or maintenance by extreme dieting, starvation, or too much exercise.
- Binge eating, which means to frequently consume an unusually large amount of food in one sitting.
- Bulimia nervosa, with symptoms include purging, taking laxatives, exercising, or fasting to avoid weight gain after binge eating.
“One may experience this as an anxious state of mind, a depressed mood, or may have a mix of anxiety and depression,” says Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist based in New York. “Turning to control and restricting food intake or becoming addicted to binging and purging is always a symptom or effect of an underlying feeling that the person lives with. It is usually some unresolved feeling related to low self-esteem, lack of worth, or repressed trauma. People turn to the attempt at controlling food intake or eating their emotions instead of dealing with the underlying problem, if untreated.”
The psychology of emotional eating can be a bit more complex. It has to do with the habits established by our family and other people who influenced us early in life. The National Library of Medicine suggests that perhaps due to parenting practices that may have been overly protective or even manipulative or hostile led to a distorted awareness of hunger and satiety. Perhaps almost every time something went wrong and emotions were triggered as a kid, your mom passed you a cookie or your dad took you out for fast food. Junk food and treats might have been used as either a consolation prize, emotional band-aid, or as a reward for good behavior during your formative years.
In many families, treats can be an effective way to shut people up and get them to do what you want them to do. Imagine that?! It’s no wonder so many folks are overweight and suffer with communication problems in their adult lives.
Family attachment to certain types of food can be strong. Special recipes, eating rituals and types of food evoke happy memories. The pleasure center of our brain lights up. We’re now associating these sugary or high calorie treats with happy times and positive emotions. The cycle repeats.
There is something REALLY important to realize about emotional eating. You may feel like your emotional issues lead to strong cravings for all the wrong foods and that controls your actions and choices. But if you flip the perspective, you will realize that the emotions are an incredibly strong motivator that can actually turn you into a lean, mean, butt-kicking machine. You just have to make the conscious choice. Here’s how it works.
If you tend to reach for unhealthy foods every time you face an emotional challenge or feel unfulfilled, you are doing the exact opposite of what your body wants, and keeping yourself stuck in a perpetuating cycle.
Not only is emotional eating terrible for our health in the long run, but it’s a major form of avoidance. Our unhealthy relationship with food can actually prevent us from moving past life problems that confound us. But if we fix our issues and learn to control emotional eating, we actually grow, learn and become more fulfilled in our lives.
It only takes a little bit of conscious awareness to recognize that EACH time something triggers your emotions, you have a CHOICE in how you respond. You can let the emotions drag you down and bury your need to be fulfilled and autonomous in your life. OR, you can see the emotions for what they really are. These strong reactions are your psyche crying out to you, saying “HEY. Something is not right here. It’s time to take action for positive change.”
How to turn your Emotionally Eating into Empowerment
Each time you feel triggered and want to reach for the nearest sugary treat, STOP and assess the situation. Run through this list of questions in your mind:
- WHAT is causing you to react emotionally? Is it a person and their way of communicating with you? Is it a situation that has become confusing? Does something feel like it is beyond your control?
- What are the EMOTIONS that you’re struggling with right now? Do you feel angry? Helpless? Frustrated? Overwhelmed? Hurt? Sad? Unfulfilled? Bored?
- What is the PATTERN that keeps repeating? What’s causing you to REPEAT the cycle of emotions and REPEAT your habit of eating the wrong foods in response to stress?(Example: let’s say it’s a person in your life whom you must deal with on a regular basis. The person seems to lack respect for you. You feel you are being taken advantage of. It keeps on happening over and over. This is causing a strong emotional response which you are trying to deny and bury by emotionally eating. FACING the situation honestly will help you take steps to OVERCOME both the emotional eating trap, AND your problem that’s causing stress in your life.)
- What are the PHYSICAL FEELINGS you are feeling right now? Pay attention to your physical sensations. Is your heart beating faster? Is your jaw clenching? Does your stomach feel upset or is your neck stiffening up?
- HOW can you release the physical feelings? We’re talking about movement, release, exercise. Stretching releases pent-up energy in the muscles. The more frustrated we feel, the more determination we can use to improve our physical health and become strong and fit. Running or doing cardio exercise of any kind releases trapped energy in the body.
This is the part that, once you become aware, can lead you to transform your emotions such as anger, frustration or sadness into something amazing that can transform you physically AND psychologically.
It starts with RECOGNIZING your emotions and how they affect you physically.
Next comes the desire to let go of the bad energy – the feelings. EACH time you notice yourself becoming emotional, make it a habit to ENGAGE IN EXERCISE of some kind. Don’t over-think it. Just move.
Next time your body feels tense and you feel a craving coming on, think of what kind of movement can help you release the negative emotions:
• You can simply get up from your desk at work and walk up and down a few flights of steps.
• You can do a few quick stretches in your cubicle.
• You can make it a point to hit the gym in the evening.
• You can take a jog around the block after you get home from work (your dog will love this too)
If you don’t release the feelings, the extra tension will rob you of sleep later and have you heading for a sugary snack at 11pm which will then keep you up all night. So make it a point to become mindful of your own emotional triggers and how to use EXERCISE to help yourself solve your problems.
EACH time emotional eating is triggered, retrain your mind to react in an empowered way. Become fueled for purpose. Use that energy to inspire, motivate and drive you. Find a healthy outlet for release – running a mile after work, stopping at the gym. Doing yoga for strength and to calm your nervous system.
Feeling stressed and emotional? Feed your brain.
If you REALLY feel hungry after a stressful or emotion-filled moment, choose PROTEIN. Protein is food for the muscles.
When our nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, our brain needs that extra protein to combat the stress. So start making it a habit to pack healthy, protein-rich snacks – trail mix, cheese and whole-grain crackers, carrots and peanut butter. Small portions are key. If you slow down, you will discover that you’re not as hungry as you thought.
Eat mindfully, and take the time to breathe, relax, and chew your food thoroughly. You will soon move past the emotions that hold you hostage to emotionally eating. Once this happens, and you make all of this awareness habit, you can give yourself a huge pat of congratulations and a great big hug.
Mindful Meditation Practices
Mindfulness based approaches are growing in popularity for emotional and disordered eating. Science Direct says that initial research suggests mindfulness meditation may be an effective intervention for binge eating.
- Meditation: Focus on your breath for a little while. It can ease anxiety and stress.
- Yoga is a great way to meditate and exercise at the same time. Doing this on a regular basis might help you make more thoughtful choices when it comes to food.
- Journaling is a form of meditation as you focus on what you are feeling and thinking and putting it down on paper.
- Auditory Guided Meditation is another great option for calming, centering and bringing more focus.
It is my hope and prayer that “My Health Journal” will assist you in implementing more healthy habits into your life. I hope that this tool is helpful and that you will learn and grow through the practice of journaling.
Live Simply and Healthy,
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