Hey guys! It's been a hot minute since I've been active on the blog, but my podcast has been up and running consistently... so whatever you may have missed here you can check out at Bridges2Barbells Radio!
Today, I want to talk about the strategies that will help you overcome emotional eating... BUT,
the first thing I want you to understand, and what I want to preface this whole post with, is that your actions and your thoughts around food do NOT define who you are as a human being.
This self-hatred and self-condemnation we often experience due to food choices, our weight, our habits… it has to stop. I’m going to talk more about this toward the end of the blog, but I want to, again, preface with the fact that self-shaming due to food choices is detrimental to change and it actually perpetuates the cycle that you are stuck in (aka emotional eating).
We have been conditioned over time to believe that if we overeat, there is something inherently wrong with us. So, first and foremost, get it out of your head that emotional eating somehow makes you a bad person or an undisciplined person. I’m going to explain to you why that is not true and I’m going to give you some strategies to help you overcome emotional eating without the pressure to be perfect or the urgency to give up all unhealthy foods and be in that all-or -nothing mindset.
Also, realize that emotional eating can really be any emotion. We can overeat when we’re stressed and sad, but also when we’re happy or celebrating something, right? Food provides that comfort we long for and we’ve been conditioned to partake in eating to feel good. What you may or may not know is that neuro-signaling in our brain occurs when we eat, and we’re often flooded with those happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin. So, often, when we’re feeling sad or stressed, we want that temporary relief, and we are aware that food provides that serotonin and dopamine kick.
We’ve got to normalize the idea that there are reasons people overeat and it’s often due to us trying to control our emotions and provide temporary relief for ourselves. Totally normal, ya’ll! Stop being yourself up.
What we’re failing to do in these instances is to notice the root problem. It’s not your tendency to engage in overeating, stress eating, or emotionally eating that is the core issue. It’s the specific stressor or emotion that we have to get to the bottom of. Food only provides very short temporary relief, so that’s not the answer to our problems, right?
In these cases, I highly suggest figuring out what’s going on to cause these overeating behaviors. I’m not a counselor just yet, but I do recommend finding one in your area if you are having problems understanding the core emotional issue at hand. However, there are also a lot of things you can do to try and relieve stress. Meditation, prayer, walking, exercising, doing a hobby… it’s all about finding healthier avenues to replace those poor habits. Today that’s what we’re going to dive into a bit. Finding healthier replacement habits to alleviate you from the pressure to overeat when you’re emotional or stressed. But at the end of the day, we have to get to the bottom of the root cause and develop a state of awareness.
So, without further a due, here is the first strategy to help you overcome emotional eating:
STRATEGY # 1 - Develop awareness around what triggers your overeating/emotional eating (for me, it’s typically boredom-I have a hard time sitting still and sitting with emotions- or it’s that time of the month, or I’m stressed about schoolwork and need to reach for some chips to make me feel better- again totally normal behavior)
I want you to look for patterns because our brain prefers them. It likes patterns. Over time, we develop muscle memory and automatic thoughts. So, when you are triggered by stress, boredom, overwhelm, or whatever other trigger you have, the brain essentially dictates your next behavior, likely without you even being conscious or aware of it, and that can come in the form of food cravings.
When we stress eat, we are typically not in a state of awareness right? We’re only thinking about the stressor or thinking about what we can do to make ourselves happier in that moment. So, we really need to ground ourselves in those moments, take a pause, and delay that next movement.
Stress eating typically comes with a trigger, like a certain sight, smell, a person, or an emotion. Maybe there’s a couple days a week where you binge on ice cream before bed and there’s that familiar feeling of guilt that follows which leaves you wondering “why do I do this to myself?” You feel crappy about it. But if you really started paying attention, via tracking what happened during the day or right before those binge eating moments, you may discover a trigger.
Maybe there’s a particular person that stresses you out and you only see them or talk to them on these given days. Perhaps you’re binging the day before you have a hectic meeting or schedule. I don’t know what might trigger you, but I can help you find out.
So, I want to give you a little light at the end of the tunnel and maybe a little relief from self-judgement.
You’re going to experiment a bit and give yourself permission to overeat for a while. I know this sounds ridiculous coming from a nutrition coach, but trust me, if you’re already consistently overeating, there is no harm or foul and you’ll actually learn from it this time. Go ahead and give yourself permission to overeat without the shame, the guilt, or the negative self-labeling.
BUT, when you do overeat (without the guilt), document it. I’m actually going to attach a document called “Behavior Awareness” on my resource page and in this blog post so you can download it and try this out.
So, you’re going to track how you feel before, during, and after the overeating episode so you can possibly identify what triggers it. This should help lessen or hopefully eliminate those negative feelings you get after overeating. Once you find that a food is no longer forbidden or outlawed, there is no longer this overbearing intense craving to have it all. When our brains are told that we cannot have a certain food, it becomes fixated. Once you allow yourself freedom around food, there’s not this intense need to eat every bit of it that you can stuff in your belly because you’re able to eat it really anytime you please.
So, fill out that awareness sheet right after your overeating experience and act like a scientist. Collect the data about yourself with a neutral outlook. No judgement. This is just data. Once you’ve done that, look for patterns. What happened during the day? What emotions did you feel? Were you bored or did you just get off a frustrating zoom call and decide to head to the freezer?
Now, be aware that it may take several times of overeating before you notice the patterns and that’s ok. Because now, you’re collecting data to do something about it. If you don’t do the experimental sheet, it’s likely you’re still going to have episodes of emotional or stress eating right? So, start now to collect as much information about your experiences as you can so there are some clear answers to what triggers the behavior.
Once you know what the trigger is, now you must decide what to do with the data. If the trigger is something you can avoid… awesome! do that. if your trigger is not something you can avoid, at the least, now you are aware and that can often times be enough to alter your behavior.
Strategy #2- Select a Replacement Action
Pick a few actions that you will ALWAYS do before you go stress eat or emotional eat and have them in mind or written down somewhere.
Master Nutrition Coach, Jen Cooper from Precision Nutrition calls it the Nourishment Menu. Since we restrict ourselves of so many things in life, food is often used to fill that emotional void or those other needs. So, you’ve got to find other sources of nourishment.
Here’s some examples:
-Go for a quick 5 minute walk.
-Go outside and take a few deep breaths of air.
-Do some housework or take five minutes to listen to your favorite songs or read something you enjoy. Listen to 5 minutes of Bridges2Barbells Radio… that’s a good one!
These need to be actions that support your goals or your values and hopefully provide some relief from intense cravings.
Now, to help you act and actually participate in habitually doing these things before you decide you want to eat an entire bag of chips, first, make your replacement actions doable and reasonable.
Maybe one of your actions is to eat a serving of fruit before you decide to stress eat. If that’s the case, you’ll need to have some fruit readily available in those moments. If the action is drinking 8oz of water before you overeat, keep water around. I know it sounds simple enough, but most people don’t do this and they set themselves up for failure.
Another helpful tip is to write down what your replacement actions are so you can choose what you feel like doing instead of eating.
So, let’s be real here, it’s probably going to take more than one 1-minute action to get over that temptation to binge right? So, give yourself a list and if you have to go through them all to get through that moment, then do that.
We’re trying to break a habit and stop a cycle. You’re going to need multiple resources and you’re going to have to practice. We don’t build better habits over night. So, don’t be dismayed if the actions don’t work the first time. This is habit building. Not a one and done cure. Just remember that. The first few times, you might still overeat. That’s ok. Keep practicing these actions.
And then the last tip to ensure that you do these replacement actions is to record every time you choose a healthier habit from your list versus bingeing. Over time, you will be able to see what actions worked and what didn’t work. That’s progress. This is a journey. It will take time, but if you’ve tried everything else, again, you have nothing to lose. Practice these new habits.
Strategy # 3 – I can’t stress this one enough. Give yourself some GRACE, girl.
If you guys only knew how many people that I talk to on a regular basis that criticize themselves so much, label themselves as incompetent, fat, undisciplined. Stop that!!
Our society has not set us up for success in healthy eating. Let me just say that. We are surrounded by hyper-palatable foods, ridiculous portion sizes, constant cues to eat, we’re flooded with hormones when we eat those fatty carb loaded foods that are involved with the reward and addiction pathway of the brain… we’re challenged every single day! And that’s hard! So, I will say again… be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace. We’re all just trying to fight our internal urges and that’s not easy for anyone.
That negative self-talk you’re doing doesn’t help either. There are studies that prove that this kind of talk signals your brain to release dopamine… the hormone that is involved with habit formation and addiction. So, you are putting yourself in this habitual vicious cycle of negative self-talk, stress eating, and shame.
It’s time to break that cycle.
Now that you know why resisting over-eating is challenging for us, you can now be mindful of what’s going on when you feel those urges. You are mindful that what you are feeling and even what you ultimately end up doing is completely normal and there is no need to judge or shame yourself. Shaming only lead to guilt which leads back to stress eating, because you’re stressed about your actions. If we can remove that guilt (since you ARE a human being and we all do things that aren’t healthy for us), then you won’t feel so stressed out about your choices. See how we’re trying to eliminate factors in this cycle?
At the end of the day, yes, we want to eliminate those habits that lead you to being overweight and unhealthy. Compassion is not an excuse to continue overeating. That’s why you’re going to start doing these actions. However, know that you are not required to be perfect. Any progress is progress. Small daily actions is where it’s at. We don’t want all-or-nothing thinking. That’s stinkin thinkin!
Now this episode is Part 1 out of 2 on stress eating, emotional eating, and binge eating. Next week, I’m going to give you some more practical tips to help you heal your relationship with food and how you view it. So make sure you’re subscribed… I don’t want you to miss out on these next strategies.
But for this week, I want you to start with the 3 strategies I told you about.
1. Develop awareness of your eating habits. (I’ve got a behavior awareness sheet for you to download for free down below). So, if you’re ready to start implementing these strategies, download that ASAP!
2. Select your replacement actions. What are you going to do before you give in to those urges to eat when you’re not hungry?
3. Give yourself some grace.
Start practicing these for this week and I'll talk to you guys next week for some more helpful tips!