At the end of a hard day, it’s easy to seek solace in food. Or to perhaps reward yourself with that extra helping of dessert, should something have gone well. We’ve all been there.
However, could we be seeking something more than comfort from our food? This is an increasingly common problem. Odds are that if you were to ask your friends if they were emotional eaters, the vast majority would say yes. A slippery slope that could lead to overeating and binge eating too, what's the best way to nip it in the bud?
Nutritionist, food blogger and editor of Foods To Love Jenna Zoe doesn't like using the term 'avoid' when it comes to emotional eating. Why? "Because emotional eating is not the problem, it’s the symptom."
“Truthfully, this is not a habit that anyone can dispel overnight. But the process of healing is a beautiful one - it's a commitment to practicing a little more self-love each day.” She adds, “Even though it's easy to feel overwhelmed by trying to change our negative patterns, these often turn out to the greatest opportunities to empower ourselves. And when you empower yourself with food, this newfound peace will spill over into every other aspect of your life.”
Feeling inspired? We certainly are. Here’s Jenna’s 5-step process for tackling emotional eating and weight loss on a deeper level and treating the root causes behind it.
STEP 1: DON'T JUDGE YOURSELF
"Listen to me loud and clear: you are NOT weak-willed, morally bad, greedy or 'less than' because you emotionally eat. You are human! Sure, not everyone reaches for food as a crutch when they feel crummy, but everyone does have a less-than-healthy avenue they're prone to going down when something negative is ruminating inside, (and some of those avenues are a LOT more destructive than a midnight pizza).
"There is not one person on the face of the planet who is exempt from working on themselves; so instead of battling yourself over this, embrace the gift it's giving you - the opportunity to grow and improve."
STEP 2: FIND OUT WHY YOU EAT
"There are many life situations that might drive us to reach for that cookie (or the whole jar) - but usually, it's the same, ongoing stress in our lives that's causing us to eat our feelings. Find some alone time and have a think about what yours might be; it will probably come to you pretty quickly, but if you're struggling to pinpoint it, here are some general themes that often come up."
Struggles with low self-esteem: "The reason we numb with food is that the body cannot simultaneously feel pleasure AND pain, and thus the temporary instant dopamine spike we get from eating delicious foods delays the oncoming feelings of pain that a lack of self-esteem is likely to bring up."
Self-sabotage: "You know that feeling - your diet's going great, you start to love the way it's making you look, and then all of a sudden the idea of feeling amazing scares you, or you think you don't deserve it. So your inner opponent has to throw a spanner in the works."
Learned behaviour: "Sometimes bingeing and stuffing can be observed from our parents or peers, and so on some level it's a behaviour that will make us feel accepted or approved of by those around us."
"Once you've identified your root cause, you'll be more likely to witness it at play next time you eat emotionally. This willingness to see your patterns in an objective, non-judgmental way is 80% of the work."
STEP 3: RECOGNISE THERE IS A BETTER WAY
"If we've been abusing food for years, it probably began as a tool to help us with something painful we were dealing with. Therefore, it can be hard to imagine not doing it anymore. Our subconscious won't want to abandon it that quickly. It knows that when that barrier comes down, there is likely to be some level of feeling pain. Tell yourself that letting go of this coping mechanism is a safe and positive thing to do."
STEP 4: REFUSE TO STRESS
"Constantly thinking about how 'bad' you are is your ego's way of keeping you stuck. Stressing and worrying may feel like it's constructive, but in reality it's taking up your precious time, time that you could be spending living life to the fullest!
"When I catch myself stressing about my eating habits, I give myself a reality check: the very fact that I can afford to devote so much mental time to such topics as body image, means I'm more privileged than two thirds of the world - so why waste that feeling anything but grateful?"
STEP 5: FLEX YOUR SELF-LOVE MUSCLE
"As they say, "What you focus on, expands". If you spend all your time thinking, 'I'm not going to binge, I'm not going to binge,’ you're essentially hanging around for the slip-up and giving it way too much status in your head.
"Devote that time instead to the opposite - think of some fun rituals you can implement that will pull you in the opposite direction. Splurge on some healthy goodies, appreciate every meal for its life-sustaining powers, and thank your body every morning for all the amazing things it enables you to do over the course of the day."