It’s 7pm. You just got home from work and you sit down in front of the TV and inhale an entire family sized block of chocolate. You didn’t want to. You berate yourself afterwards. But the next day it happens again and it’s really starting to piss you off. And now you believe your problem is with food.
You’re on a diet. You’re trying to be good. Yeah, you’re losing weight and loving it. And then BAM out of left field you’re diving face first into a bucket of icecream with absolutely no idea why. What a failure. And now you believe your problem is with food.
Nope - none of that sounds like you. You’re quite controlled. You think white sugar is poison and carbs are the devil. You would never eat that garbage. But irritatingly, that’s the third Pritikin muffin you’ve eaten today. And now you believe your problem is with food.
I did too. For AGES! I kept thinking I was weak. That I had no willpower and self control when it came to diets. That I was fundamentally flawed because I at like a fatty fat fat fat.
Here’s the thing.
You DON’T have a problem with food. The underlying trigger that results in binges or overeating is an emotional one. You’re using food as a substitute for getting your emotional needs met. You are using food to self soothe.
Understanding what the underlying cause of your emotional eating is a crucial part of overcoming this debilitating issue. Then finding nurturing ways to get your needs met comes next.
So what could be your trigger?
1. Lack of calories
I know - technically not an “emotional” problem, but lack of calories can trigger a stress response in the body similar to famine. True story. Sometimes a binge is literally caused by your body saying “gimme gimme gimme” because you’ve ignored the soft whispers of hunger + satiety clues. Pay attention to your needs through Intuitive Eating. I’ve found this book really helpful.
2. Lack of control
No - not your lack of self control or willpower. Where else in life are you feeling powerless or overwhelmed? What do you need to start saying no to in order to say yes to yourself?
3. Lack of worthiness
Filling a gaping emotional void can be difficult, but you already know that food is not the answer. So how can you feel more worthy? Start here. You are more than your body, your thoughts, your career and your relationships. You are a grand total of a unique and incredible individual and we all need your brilliance. The unlikely arc of evolution that spans millennia has given birth to you. What a miracle! You are meant to be here. You belong here. And you were born worthy of love and belonging.
4. Lack of tools
Food has become your coping mechanism for self soothing. But now you get to pimp your toolkit with the most bombastic-super-fantastic nurturing tools you can find. Go on. Go all out. Brainstorm. Idea shower. List all the solutions you can think of that you can turn to when the going gets tough. Here, I’ll go first. An epsom salts bath, a massage, dancing to mah fave tunes, meditation, turn off my phone, watch a comedy, journal, call a trusted friend.
5. Lack of awareness
Dig deep here comrade. What is the underlying issue? When that urge to go hell for leather on baked goods hits, try to pause and witness with loving non-judgement why this has occured. Did someone cut you down to size? Are you physically exhausted? Do you just feel sad? No matter what the trigger was, when you know what it is you can treat the cause not the symptoms. Much more holistically.
6. Lack of mindfulness
How can you “activate the pause” in order to be mindful? One way I quite like is “The Flash Diet” where you interrupt mindless eating by taking a photo of your meal. Sure, you can “tweet before you eat” if you like. But even if you don’t share your meal publicly, actually photographing every morsel of food before it enters your mouth is a fabulous way of pausing and asking yourself “Is this food really in alignment with my needs?” Photography not your style? Check out these other 21 ways to make your meal more mindful.
7. Lack of space
Do you have the energy to prepare a healthy, nourishing meal? Do you have time to sit mindfully and enjoy the pleasure of eating? Have you carved out a slot in your calendar for “me time”? Creating space in your life to eat well and chill out is vital for your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
8. Lack of transparency
Ouch. This one might hurt a little. I know that my disordered relationship to food and my body was a source of great shame. I hid a lot of my eating. I ate furtively and out of sight. I hid evidence of what I’d eaten but my body couldn’t. Many times I would try to fool myself that this pattern would stop tomorrow; or that this behaviour (even though it was hurting me) didn’t matter. I had to get radically honest with myself about my eating habits, which also meant opening up to friends about what was going on. It was scary, but really rewarding. Because when I did, I ended up getting professional help and began my journey of healing. Remember, an eating disorder isn’t just anorexia or bulimia. My kind of disorder is called EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which can include symptoms of chronic dieting, excessively ruminating about food and exercise, and binge eating without purging.
9. Lack of self kindness
Has your Inner Bully been harshly critiquing your emotional eating? Or just bullying you around in general? This harsh inner voice is keeping you stuck in this vicious cycle. Forgive yourself, speak to yourself like you would your best friend, and give yourself permission to move on.
What about you? Have you noticed any other triggers in your journey? Share them in the comments below.
Also, do you have a friend that suffers from emotional eating? Share these tips with them. You could be liberating them from a frustrating problem.