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Confront The Emotional Eating Monster

“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” ― Oscar Wilde

This absolutely gripping and memorable quote often makes its appearance in my thoughts when I think or contemplate aspects of emotional eating related topics. It seems so simple not to be at the mercy of our emotions. But then why is it so difficult to combat and beat something like emotional eating.

We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. And when we do, we tend to reach for processed food, sweets indulgences, and other comforting but unhealthy food choices. You might reach for a tub of creamy, velvety ice cream when you’re feeling down, order the cheesiest pizza you can get your hands on if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful and harrowing day at work to get a take away meal. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better and sufficed—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t repair emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes us feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but one also feel guilty for overeating. A sad vicious cycle.

We need to dig a little bit deeper and identify the differences between physical and emotional hunger. Now this seems so basic- however this is a concept we all battle with at some point in our lives. Being a dietitian I can't keep track of how many clients I see who battle with this. I am not the world's expert in this field. I often also resort to emotional eating when I get my exhausting/bad days. But identifying the issue is key to solving any problem as such. I check in with myself to really get to the bottom of understanding my feelings/emotions. Be that person who actually feels in touch with their emotions. It is not a terrible thing to admit to. In fact it is a powerful quality to possess.

Let us take a closer look at the difference between emotional and physical hunger:

  • Emotional hunger often feels urgent and rather overwhelming. Physical hunger on the other hand comes on gradually.

  • The one clue I always like to use to identify the difference between the two is that with physical hunger we will eat almost anything. While specifically with emotional hunger we crave for specific foods.

  • Emotional hunger is not located in the stomach. Rather than a growling stomach (physical hunger) you tend to feel your hunger as a craving or sensation you can't remove from your brain.

  • Often emotional eating leads to over eating to a point of feeling very guilty, experiencing a feeling of shame and regret. When you eat for physical hunger it is unlikely to cause feelings of shame and guilt.

The first step to overcome emotional eating is to identify the triggers that cause this. Stress, sadness, feelings of reward after achieving goals. Whatever the trigger may be- Identifying it is the first step to success. This is often the most difficult step. We don't particularly like the feeling of connecting to our body and digging deeper. But unless we do this, emotional eating will always be around and weight issues may always be a problem.

If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long.

In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to control yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.

  • When feeling happy: Use that happy/energizing energy and go for a walk/run/swim.

  • When feeling exhausted: Take a warm bubble bath with scented candles, Drink a hot cup of tea/coffee.

  • When feeling sad/depressed: Watch your favourite comedy/series, talk to someone who always make you smile.

  • When feeling lonely: Call a friend, take your four legged companion for a walk preferably in nature.

The point I am trying to make is: Identify your feeling/trigger- and find an alternative to food to deal with that emotion.

This is honestly a challenging yet rewarding task to master. Learn to accept feelings-even the bad and sad ones. Check in with yourself when a craving hits and keep practicing mindful eating.

Achieving a healthy lifestyle and overcoming emotional eating reminds me of yet another quote, yes - (I do love quotes). This particular aspiring quote was written by the well known Walt Disney. He stated that "It's kind of fun to do the impossible". Often it feels so beyond our grasp and impossible to achieve a healthy lifestyle. However, it can be done and it is a kind of fun thing to challenge yourself to. After all it is really good for you!

Keep focused, check in with yourself , be mindful and smash your goals one by one!

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