Updated: Nov 14, 2019
This article is specifically about:
Emotional eating, closet eating, binge eating or what ever you want to call it. This is one of many types of eating disorders but one of the less talked about ones, majority of people experience it in one way or another.
Signs that you are an Emotional Eater:
Eating when you are not physically hungry;
It is hard to find food that satisfies you;
Cravings for certain foods are triggered by emotions like: Sadness, Stress or Anger. Sometimes we are so busy or so down and fatigued that we become lazy and grab convenience foods instead of doing preparation, but our health should really come first;
Eating mindlessly, not because you enjoy or are tasting the food;
Emotional eating stems from events in our lives; we create emotional attachments to food and habits around eating, so when we feel a certain emotion our brain follows that programmed loop. Food temporarily eases the pain and distracts us from confronting the underlying issue.
From childhood, a number of families were taught to eat everything on our plates to ensure that nothing goes to waste, which leads to overeating in adulthood. When we did something good as a child we were reward generally with food, when we got hurt like stubbing a toe we soothed pain with food. Now as adults we do the same, instead of treating ourselves with perhaps something good for our bodies like a massage.
We compare ourselves to others, we get unset, angry or frustrated because our values and expectations don’t align with everyone else, we make assumptions, we miscommunicate, our bosses negatively reinforce our mistakes instead of reminding us that mistakes aren’t a bad thing or using positive reinforcement, this all effects our self esteem and self confidence on a daily basis. Sometimes we binge eat, then we eat restrictively and over exercise to punish ourselves… Do you know how sad this is! If we spoke to others the way we spoke to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends.
Emotions and behaviors are engrained and reprogramming the mind seems like its too hard basket, we get trapped in fear that we are inadequate or incapable of breaking through but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, don’t let fear paralyze you. Once you realize that you are the only thing standing in your own way and nobody else (don't blame others!), only then will you be able to take steps and do your best day in and day out to produce a different outcome.
Know this, what we were told as children wasn’t necessarily the best advice nor was it entirely correct, the role models around us were just doing what they knew and to the best of their ability which we took as gospel. I give you permission to form your own opinions and to let go of the past, be present then the future outcome will just happen, stop resisting greatness.
You have to be willing to commit to creating long-term change and doing the do no matter how you feel because: THOUGHTS become FEELINGS become ACTIONS become RESULTS.
A little bit about my story. It wasn’t really until recent years that I made it my mission to overcome this elephant in the room. This was due to restrictive eating to get super lean and then binging and putting the weight (plus some) back on. The last time this happened (one of many) I reached an all time low and couldn’t handle the way I felt anymore. I would be going so well with my ‘diet’ and then I would slip up and lose control, if I ate an oreo I would tell my self ok now I’m going to eat everything I can possibly think of because what difference will this make. I would compare myself to others, surely no one else does this I’m the only one without self-control, and then I would get down about the food I had consumed, my body and start eating even more.
On the outside I was this super healthy person who never ate junk, but when I was alone it was a completely different story. Eating alone, in my car or in my bedroom, hiding the evidence, crying as I ate, looking in the mirror with utter disgust, going from sweet to savory foods because nothing satisfied me and spending a fortune in the process. Who can relate? I’m not saying that I am a saint now but I’ve come a long way.
This was self-sabotage at its best and not respecting my body that’s for certain.
This was also the turning point for me, because this time I had taken it too far and I could no longer loose the weight with ease, I had yoyo’d so much that I had now created permanent damage to my metabolism.
So my next step was to start speaking to people who knew more than I did about the topic or had been through what I had, I also went to the GP to get some tests done which was a recommendation from a nutritionist. As a result, I was initially diagnosed with depression, anxiety and adrenal fatigue partly from trying to out-exercise my binge episodes. The Doctor didn’t actually think to do a thorough test of my hormone balance, so I then went to 2 other Doctors who also diagnosed me with depression and anxiety but one was willing to do more in-depth hormone testing for me however this was at my own request.
My mood was interrelated but I knew there was a deeper underlying cause and I was determined to find out more. It makes me wonder how many people have been sent away with a prescription for anti-depressants as a Band-Aid solution. I’m not saying that everyone has hormones completely out of whack but it could very well be the case, and why you could have the most incredible will power in the world and still be unsuccessful, yet this subject is news to most people?!
Hormonal balances take time to regulate so this is a slow process back to health (for me, predominantly my Thyroid hormones we underactive and cortisol levels were high). Know that most hormone imbalances high or low cause side effects of depression and anxiety, and in reverse that depression and anxiety are related to hormone imbalances, you can’t really separate hormones and mood disturbances.
Emotional eating is multifaceted and there are a number of interlinking factors that you need to isolate and overcome, so take each step at a time.
On Cortisol, this is the Stress hormone response, pumping adrenalin around the body, which makes us crave: carbohydrates, sugary and fatty foods. The fight or flight mode, back in the cavemen days use to be the trigger to prepare for sudden death or starvation, not really a huge problem now days with obesity being more prevalent than poverty, but the brain doesn’t know the difference same goes for thoughts vs reality, the brain also does not know the difference. Our environment has changed!
We live in an instant gratification society searching for the next dopamine hit, and that’s what food does for us, temporarily, its been compared to Cocaine, but you have got to consider the after effects, not just that moment in time.
Know that you cannot compare yourself to anyone in my case nobody around me really knew how out of control I was. Don’t make assumptions about other people, look within yourself and what is going in internally compared to what the external shows. FaceBook and Instagram have to be the worst for this. My health is improving, it really is, I tell myself every day that I AM HEALTHY and that I will get there (check out the Wayne Dyer I AM meditation).
3 Steps you can take NOW to overcome Emotional Eating:
1. Be Aware: rather than eating unconsciously, where and when you stress eat, notice patterns, ask yourself whether you are physically hungry, you can gauge this on a scale of 1-10, there are YouTube videos you can watch to learn more on mindful eating;
2. Replace: like any addiction put something in place of eating when you feel a certain way, like activities such as: sipping tea, massage/stretch, clear the mind with breathing exercises;
3. Practice: keep practicing and if you are unsuccessful practice again. Don’t give up, don’t dwell and have a pity party just move on and get back on track. Every pro was once an amateur and what I mean by this is that those who are successful at anything had to start somewhere. Fail forward. New patterns can force old ones into the background.
The brain cannot decipher the difference between good and bad habits, once you overcome one 'Key Stone Habit' you can overcome any habit you choose, just focus on one at a time, for example: eating healthily, smoking, cutting down on alcohol or getting fit.
Here are some thoughts and habits to consider that helped me:
Understand what you are doing to your body long term and consider this every time you go to make a decision about food;
Take care of gut health to reduce inflammation and bring your body back to a healthy more alkaline pH level;
If you crave salty carbohydrates you usually haven’t had enough good carbohydrates and sodium. Same for fats like chocolate. However sometimes cravings can be due to micro nutrient deficiencies and a lot to do with that fact that we don’t get enough from our depleted food sources and definitely not enough greens daily;
Not making decisions when feeling any form of intense emotion;
Practicing mindfulness so that emotions don’t get to the point that you want to reach for food;
Spend time appreciating the food, we are lucky to have all that we do, it makes you not want to eat just for the sake of it, for comfort and to fill time when bored;
Changing your environment;
Changing where you direct energy, energy goes where thoughts flow and we are what we attract. You are actually in control of how much you suffer whether it be a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, who is to say what this should be?;
Pour love into yourself every day by adopting daily habits, I use to be slack with this but then I realized that the less I commit to daily habits, the further away my goal becomes. Habits: Affirmations, Gratitude’s, Meditation, Personal Development;
Don’t make excuses for reasons not to prepare food and do food shopping, also don’t do this whilst hungry;
Give and receive, don’t just give a compliment for example and then not be open to receiving one back, your disrupting the flow and not valuing yourself;
Knowing what is a realistic expectation of how you want to look, dig deep, this is not a weight loss journey anymore this is an inner health journey where my outer health will show as a result of the inside;
In life, only take advice of those people who are a product of the product, I wouldn’t take financial advice from someone who is broke, I wouldn’t trust an overweight personal trainer or nutritionist, I wouldn’t take advice on how to become successful from someone who is unhappy and stuck in a rut.
Do not workout or starve yourself because of poor eating choices, this makes matters worse so move on from moments of weakness;
Keep a diary for mood and food to identify triggers;
Find an accountability partner or support person;
Don’t eat alone if you can avoid it especially weekly cheat meals, also try to have these for dinner so it doesn’t carry on for the rest of the day and turn into a cheat day;
Let go of the past, how much you use to weigh, what somebody called you when you were 7, nobody cares about that, all that matters is the present, stop worrying about the future because a lot of the time you don’t have control over this and that’s just a fact of life, we are on this journey for a reason, we have to stop resisting and just go with it, the universe works in mysterious ways that’s for sure;
Come from a place of love every time you encounter another person who may be difficult or negative, realize that people have their own stuff going on, don’t take it personally, they are your teachers and mirrors;
Reward yourself differently, not with food.
Some of the different approaches to try which I took something away from:
GP, blood profile testing and further testing on abnormal hormone levels;
Councilor, to talk through underlying issues, a confidential third party because it can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing to talk to friends and family about this, so perhaps start with someone who specializes in this area and can provide you with sound advice and steps to take;
Psychologist, to do some inner child work and schema cognitive behavioral therapy around things in the past we struggle to let go of, some of which were subconscious. I guess this would be different for everyone and usually requires a referral;
Naturopath/homeopath, they will speak to you about imbalances resulting in uncontrollable emotions and behavior, supplementation, hormone health and nutrition with a more flexible approach to eating rather than being on a diet;
Nutritionist, for me I went to a few different ones, go to someone who you share the same values with;
Alternative therapies like; Reiki, Kinesiology, Shamanism and Acupuncture to balance chakras and shift trapped energy in the body;
Psychic, they can help to put things into perspective and to reassure you that you are on the right path so trust the process;
Paperback books, podcasts and audio books, like 'The Hormone Diet' by Natasha Turner, reading this book put me off in terms of long-term damage. Other self-development books, an audio book I am currently listening to is called 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg;
Meditation aps like headspace and smiling mind, to practice mindfulness to help lower the level of emotion experienced, to help remain calm;
Journaling, about experiences to recognize triggers and patterns;
Online resources, blogs and plans to overcome emotional eating;
Personal development courses and groups, we are constantly learning and becoming better versions of ourselves, surround yourselves with those who are walking this road with you.
Personally, I find it incredibly rewarding coaching people who struggle with weight management and eating habits. Why? I want to cut to the chase and save people time and money by giving back. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot along the way and if someone can at least learn one new thing from this blog for example to help them even slightly then my job is done, its not about financial gain.
NOW don't just read this article, 95% will do nothing, 5% will do something, it’s a proven fact and it sucks so actually take action and try something different, it's not easy to reprogram your mind but the only way you can is to keep repeating the same good habits day in and day out. 40% of our day is made up of habits.
I’m not going to sprinkle fairy dust and glitter on you, offer you some magic pills and misinform you by saying that its easy and that you will see fast results, you will have good and bad days, our best effort changes but that’s why this is a journey so don’t be too hard on yourself, you will learn a lot from those moments of weakness and overwhelm.
This will be such a rewarding and empowering experience for you and will help you to become a better person.
Once you start really getting clear on what you want and setting out on your journey, obstacles will show up just so that you are aware. So you need to stay focused no matter what, find a bigger reason as to why you are doing this because overwhelm is self sabotaging so you need something powerful to pull you back up.
How you do one thing is how you do everything so practice in private what you practice in public.
Good luck, I wish you nothing but a life from here onwards towards healthy eating habits!
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