I never quite understood how deeply entrenched our relationships with food are until I became a parent and I noticed myself instinctively giving my kids food to console them. For many of us, food is tied up with feelings of comfort and nurturing. So it’s no wonder a packet of chips or tub of ice cream can be the first stop when we are looking to soothe ourselves.
I’m no psychologist, but over my years of working with clients who struggle with these issues I have found some strategies that help support people to beat binge eating and get where they want to be with their health and fitness.
If you have used food to manage your emotions, please don’t beat yourself up. Accept that it’s been a strategy to carry you through difficult situations and numb your feelings. It may have worked for you in the past, but now it’s time to shed the old behaviours that are holding you back and develop new, helpful habits.
What if you could be free of emotional eating? What if you could get through tricky times without bingeing and throwing your eating plan out the window?
We have outlined some basic strategies below to help you manage emotional eating. However, if it’s a real sticking point for you, it’s worth seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor to work through your relationship with food. Many people who struggle with food are reluctant to take this step, but it can be a life-changing one, and people often say they wish they had done it sooner.
- Ditch the dieting mentality and restriction. The stricter the guidelines the more likely you are to blow it and trigger a binge. Follow a basic healthy eating plan most of the time, and allow for extras every now and then.
- There is no tomorrow or next Monday or after Christmas. There is only now. If you do overeat or use food to soothe yourself, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Check yourself as quickly as you can, without judgment, and focus on making the next best decision you can.
- Exercise every day if possible. Taking care of yourself and pushing yourself physically helps keep you present and connected to your body. As your fitness improves and you start to feel better about your body, you will instinctively want to fuel it with healthy foods in appropriate amounts.
- Give your body a chance to tell you when it’s had enough by being fully present when you eat. Sit down at the table to eat, without any distractions. Make the meal the main event.
- Notice how you’re feeling when you are drawn to eat. Are you upset? Angry? Stressed? Bored? When you’re away from the heat of the moment, devise alternate strategies for dealing with these emotions and soothing yourself without food. Exercise is one of the best ways to work through difficult emotions. Finding activities that you find intensely pleasurable without turning to food can be really helpful.
- Eat slowly, and notice how your body feels as you eat. Appreciate the flavours and texture of the food. When these sensations start to become dull, this can be the first hint that you’ve had enough to eat.
- Be curious about your eating habits, without judgment. This can help you notice your habitual responses to certain situations. You can then work on redesigning your habit loop, as explained here.
- Stop waiting, start living! So many people who struggle with their weight put off living their lives until they reach a certain weight. Often, if we start behaving “as if” we were already at our goal weight, it is no longer food’s job to fill the void in our lives. Start taking the golf classes, apply for the big job, wear great clothes and do your hair and make-up. Make other things in your life more exciting than food. Food can be our entertainment, best friend and something to look forward to at the end of the day. Look for genuine experiences to take its place.
- Structure counts when it comes to emotional eating. Take the decision making and guesswork out of the process. Three well balanced meals a day with an optional afternoon snack is the way to go. And after dinner, the kitchen is closed.