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Emotional Eating

emotional eating habits Apr 24, 2022
Emily life coach sitting in chair

I get a lot of questions about what I teach my members... they ask Emily, you don't tell them how much to eat, when to eat, what to eat, how many calories to eat, or what kind of water to drink. You don't tell them any of that. Yet here they are losing weight, gaining confidence, and living their life from a whole new perspective. It's making people around them go What the hell are you doing?

They wonder what's in the Kool-Aid? It's really no big secret!  It's no big secret, or at least it shouldn't be. Maybe it's the secret that the diet industry has been keeping from us. I don't know. I don't know, but I'm going to tell you what my members are doing is learning the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. When am I eating because I'm actually hungry, and when am I eating because I'm just having some feelings right now. 

How to know if you are emotionally eating:

  • You eat when you had a bad day
  • You eat when you have a good day
  • You eat when you're stressed
  • You eat when you're worried someone's mad at you
  • You eat when you're bored

These are all reasons that are not physical hunger, which is the only reason we need to eat, food solves for hunger and the trick is we have to learn to differentiate between knowing is this physical hunger I'm feeling or is this emotional hunger?

What is going on here? What am I needing right now? And how can I most effectively deliver to my body what it's needing? When I need sleep, I don't need to be feeding myself Oreos, I need to be getting my pillow.

When I'm frustrated with my children. I need to walk away and take a breath and remind myself why might they be doing what they're doing, but I don't need to be going into the pantry to look for potato chips. That's not going to solve that problem. 

We have to look at when are we eating and why are we doing it?

Some of us will eat just because of the time of day.  It's noon so it's lunchtime, and every minute past noon we're thinking, I must be hungry. I must be, look at at the time, come on body give me some signals, its noon... it's time to eat. What's wrong? I must not have a hunger signal I better eat anyway.

No. We learn how to stop all of that nonsense and learn how to look at what does physical hunger feel like? And when I want to eat emotionally? What am I going to do instead? What will I do instead of eating?

Why do we emotionally eat?

Why do we gravitate towards food instead of doing the work of real solutions? And the reason is we're trying to avoid a feeling.

We want a quick way to get out of the feeling we're in and our habit brain has learned that hey, this makes you happy!

Like oh boy at the end of the day. She's stressed. The kids are loud. Dinner's late. I know what'll help get the wine out of the fridge. Come on. Do it. Remember last time, remember last time we had a glass when we started to feel relaxed and everything was better? You remember right? And then you might have thoughts of no I don't want wine right now. Like I'm just making dinner. It'll be okay. And then the thoughts of wine might get louder. This is your brain trying to comfort you trying to keep you in a place of pleasure. Keep you out of pain and reduce the effort that you're spending on being frustrated over your evening your children, your dinner, and making whatever is happening in the moment. Your brain's job is to keep you in a place of everything is wonderful. Keep you safe, keep you alive.

When it does this and when it tries to get us to eat when we're not hungry. You might hear thoughts like it's just a little bit.

You were so good today.

Just a couple of bites.

Nobody will know.

Tomorrow we won't do this we'll be better.

This is your habit brain throwing up all the stuff that you usually give in to. The thoughts that really light your brain up with excitement. These thoughts will minimalize the negative effect that seems like no big deal to us, right? So if it's nine o'clock, and I'm deciding, hey, I'm ready to watch a Netflix show. My brain right away is like hey, when you watch Netflix, it's much better when you add Swedish Fish. Is that true or not true? 9:00 O'Clock Emily is like really buying that story. Yeah, that's true. I want to believe that because that sounds good to me right now. I want Swedish Fish while I watched the show. However, I know logically, that's not true. It's not true that Netflix is better with Swedish Fish. But my brain has a memory and has past evidence that I have paired those items before - Netflix and Swedish Fish and the result has been a happy brain. Until the next morning and then I say I know I shouldn't have done that.

But we don't think of those things in the moment. In the moment, we're just thinking Swedish Fish SOUNDS GOOD.  And then we go into the loop. I could just have a couple it wouldn't be too bad. I was good in our habit brain sends us down that track of let me remind you like, for some reason you're hesitant tonight. But let me remind you how wonderful this combination is. That's where we have to stop it in its tracks and say you know what? I'm gonna call BS on that. Because that's not actually how this plays out.  I'm happy in the moment, I think... I'm enjoying the false pleasure of Netflix and Swedish Fish, but I'm not going to be happy in the long run. 

At some point, my logical brain is going to wake back up and say, Oh, that probably wasn't the best choice. It probably wasn't totally necessary. And so here we are emotionally eating right. And as long as we have awareness of when we're doing it and why we're doing it, we can start diving into how do we change this behavior. So now what, we get to the next day, or even later in the same day, where we have let the habit brain run amok? And we're emotionally eating, so now what do you do?

Are you the type of person who the next day will say, Well, that's it like today I'm eating all the lettuce and that's it? No bread for me. No sugar for me, definitely no carbs like I need to be good today. I need to fix yesterday or do you wake up feeling defeated enough or disappointed enough in yourself? That you just keep carrying right on with your old habits through the next day because okay, why not? You'll do that. You'll never do this right?  So you might as well just keep going the way you're going.

Those are two common ways that we come out of this habit of thinking and we wake back up into like, either now I need to really restrict to make up for it or I never do this right. This won't work for me. I can't do this and we continue the cycle of emotionally eating.

What I teach my members is to find a place in their minds where they can wake up the next day and not miss a beat. Keep right on marching towards their goals.

I'm gonna give you 3 simple ways that you can start doing the same thing.

1. Plan for your indulgence

Plan on purpose. tonight. I want to watch Netflix, and I want to have Swedish Fish. When I plan on purpose, I need to be real specific with myself because the later in the day it gets the more tired I get the more stress I get, the louder my habit brain gets and the harder it is for me to remember these are your goals.  My brain wants to rest and fall into habit thinking. And until I rewire these habits, habit thinking needs supervision. So... plan for the indulgence, do it on purpose. What are you going to watch and how many Swedish Fish are you looking for? 50, 100? How many? Be very specific, and give yourself permission. We're going to do this and we're going to do it on purpose.

2. Don't overdo it

Stop when you're satisfied. Just because you're giving yourself permission doesn't mean you need to go crazy with it. You don't need to eat all of this. You need to watch all the Netflix stay up way too late. Don't get your sleep now, you've got to learn to tune in and say okay, have I had enough? Am I still physically hungry? Is this even still good to me? You know, sometimes we get to eating and it's like now I have the whole bag gone. And the second half we eat mindlessly. Also emotional eating.

3. Notice

Notice how your body and your mind respond to having this planned food in a responsible quantity. No judgment. Just observation.

Did you enjoy it as much as you thought?

Did you find it was just a tool you are using to numb out?

Do you want to plan more of it? Right?

How is this food playing with your body?

Is it food that really gives you what you think it does?

Does it really provide relief? 

Does it actually fall for hunger in a way that's manageable for you? 

Can you eat this food and then last four to six hours before you eat it again?

Or is it food that you're just enjoying and it's not really doing anything for you?

We have to get real about what is this food doing for me. You have to remove the shame and the judgment over wanting a variety of food. Humans eat food, period. Not good food, not bad food. They just eat food. You and me both. We make it good or bad when we assign responsibility for our overeating to the food.

If we noticed that Ding Dongs upset our stomachs and we keep eating them anyway. We're not using food as a tool to solve for hunger. And we probably end up labeling the Ding Dongs as bad, when really the Ding Dongs have nothing to do with it, it's you coming in and eating the Ding Dongs past where you're actually hungry. That's the problem and that's the work that we need to dive into.

Why are you doing that? Why are you eating past physical hunger? And you don't need a calorie count to do that. You don't need a macro count to do that. You don't need an Emily in your ear saying are you really hungry? You need your brain and your stomach to be connected and to be communicating with each other, to be supervised while you learn new habits? Am I hungry or am I eating just because I think it's time to eat? Tune into yourself so you can see how often do you eat for physical hunger? And how often do you eat for emotional hunger or just to eat by the calendar? I think you'd be surprised.

For more information or if you like what you heard today. Please check out Emilybrower.com.

We have a new round of Ditch the Diet opening May 2!  I'd love to have you join us!