A prospective client once told me, “I don’t know if you can help me. I’m an emotional eater.”
To which I replied, “Welcome to America.”
About 67% of Americans have made food their “drug of choice.” That is, they use food to numb out feelings, to avoid tasks and thoughts, for recreation, and as a reward.
Emotional eating typically takes place in the evening, when you finally get to relax and let down from your busy day. We often think it’s also “reward” time—especially if you have kids and they are in bed for the night.
Now, before you embark on the next few exercises, you have a homework assignment. Beginning as soon as you finish reading this post, begin an “I Want To . . .” List. We all have “To Do” Lists. This is all the things you want to do. It may be as small as listen to your favorite music or learn to knit to climb Mt. Everest or learn to ski. Some things you can do today, others take more preparation. Keep this list handy. Cross off items and add items as appropriate. You will need this list as you replace eating with those things and events on it.
First You Want to Discover Your Emotional Eating Triggers
The next time you find yourself heading to the kitchen, just stop your feet for a moment. Tell yourself that you can still eat and first you want to pick your own brain. Then ask yourself if you are hungry.
If you answer “yes” have something to eat—preferably healthy.
If you answer “no, but . . .” it’s the same as answering “no.”
If you answer “no” then ask yourself, “If I am not hungry, what am I feeling?”
And here’s the tricky part. Be still and listen for the answer. If you have been eating to stuff down or numb your emotions, you may need to ask the question several times. That’s okay. Be patient and persistent with yourself. You are beginning to connect the dots in your behaviors and it may take a little time.
When you do identify a feeling, it may be tired, stressed, bored, angry, or one of a multitude of other feelings. You can’t do this wrong. Whatever word pops into your head, that’s the one your subconscious wants you to focus on.
After you realize what you are really feeling, then it’s time to address it. What can you do instead of eating to heal this feeling?
If you’re tired or stressed, it may be time to go to bed or listen to a meditation or hypnosis recording; if you’re angry, it may be time to walk the dog or do another physical activity to get that feeling out of your body.
If you’re bored, that’s where your “I Want to Do” List comes in. Do something on that list. You will feel so much better than if you had eaten something. You are addressing the feeling and you didn’t eat when you weren’t hungry. Win/win.
Another tool to help you eliminate emotional eating is to simply ask yourself, “What just happened?” Your behavior is not random. There are always reasons you do what you do. Your subconscious mind thinks they are good reasons, too. Tracing back to those reasons can help you eliminate those reasons to eat. For example, you may have just seen a food commercial on TV. It can mistakenly lead you to believe that you’re hungry. Often, just connecting those dots will give you a laugh and a feeling of satisfaction. So you won’t eat. Or maybe someone just called, and it was uncomfortable. Instead of communicating something you want them to know, you stuff down those words with food.
If you have a conflict with someone and you are eating about it, here’s how to resolve that:
When you can get some time alone, place 2 chairs facing each other about 3-4 feet apart. Sit in one chair, pretend the offending party is in the other chair and tell him/her how you feel. Again, you can’t do this wrong. You may feel a bit intimidated in the “presence” of this person; you may be angry, hurt or any number of emotions. Just feel what you feel. Remember, the feeling is the healing.
When you feel some completion with your venting, switch chairs and become the person you were just talking to. Respond to yourself and what you just said. You may be quite surprised at what comes out of your mouth. Switch chairs as often as you want.
This tool will probably help you find peace with your relationship with that person.
You can repeat this exercise as often as you want until you find resolution. Remember, it is NOT the other person’s problem. It’s your problem. You don’t need their actual presence or permission to resolve your feelings and stop eating about them.
This exercise can be done whether or not this person is still living.
If you want to go a bit deeper with your feelings, ask yourself, “When was the first time I felt this way when food was around?” You may want to sit down and relax to answer this question. Feel the feeling in your body and let your brain take you where it wants you to go.
Often a childhood memory will appear. Remember the scene. Imagine that you are watching as the adult you are, not as the child you were. If it’s a painful memory, you may want to pick up your child and remove him/her from the scene. Removing your child before anything happens to him/her may help you rewrite your own history.
Imagine yourself holding your child and soothing him/her. Think of your child often, making him/her feel loved and secure. Your child part represents much of your emotional eating. When you comfort your child, your emotional eating subsides a lot.
It may take a little practice using these tools to be able to use them quickly and effectively. It’s worth the effort.
Your subconscious mind will solve your problems for you the best way it can, in the absence of instructions from you and it almost always will sacrifice your body to save your mind.