Are you an emotional eater?

It starts with a scoop of ice cream, and before you know it, the whole tub is gone. For a moment it gives you satisfaction. But then comes the guilt. You ask yourself, “Where was my will power? How did that even happen?”

Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings.  When the urge to eat hits, it’s all they can think about. This emotionally-charged relationship with food is both extremely satisfying, yet riddled with guilt. Food becomes both our ally and our enemy.

Women generally have a more challenging relationship with food than men. We spend so much time judging ourselves for what we've eaten and how we are eating. We punish with diets and exercise to alleviate the “wrongdoing” with food. These issues are to do with more than just food - there’s something much deeper going on in your life.

Emotional eating can often begin in childhood, when good behaviour was rewarded with ice cream or pizza or perhaps you were even given lollies when you hurt yourself or when upset. Such beliefs stay with us and, as we get older, we may continue to use food to comfort ourselves when we are down.

How can you tell if you’re an emotional eater?  

Emotional eaters tend to be set off by certain emotions or situations:

  • Boredom

  • Feeling deprived

  • Stress due to work, kids, family life, health, weight, relationships, money, the future or even past life experiences

  • Resentment

  • Disappointment

  • Sadness

  • Depression

Everything and anything in our lives may be connected to our eating challenges and food habits.

All of these emotional experiences create some degree of physiologic stress response which can contribute to overeating, binge eating, weight gain, chronic dieting, and so much more.

How can you develop a healthy relationship with food?

  • Don’t let yourself get too hungry as this can leave you vulnerable to emotional eating.

  • Choose foods that give you both enjoyment and nourishment. Stock your fridge with delicious, healthy foods.

  • Step into a relaxation response with meals. Slow down, stop the rush, be present, mindful. Feel more enjoyment with the eating experience generally. Eat with awareness and pleasure by eating slowly.

  • Be aware of negative self-talk. Monitor your negative thoughts while eating and practice nourishing thoughts. When the emotions go awry, instead invite them in and allow yourself to feel them. Welcome your negative emotions with kindness and curiosity, and ask them what they want from you.

  • Identify and understand your emotional eating triggers.  Find alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.

  • If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.

  • Try EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique or “tapping” which uses acupressure points to clear emotional issues.

  • If you have an episode of emotional eating, try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that'll lead to better health.

If you've tried self-help options but you still can't control emotional eating, a trained therapist can help you identify why you are eating too much and teach you better coping skills for eating and for dealing with your emotions.

We also have Naturopaths who specialise in this area - just ask when booking your next appointment, or call us on (02) 4961 4075 to find out more.

Yours in health,

Kate Williams

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