Emotional eating has as much complexity as there are people in the world. Everybody has an entirely different experience.
On the other hand it is incredibly simple. You:
- Eat impulsively and without thinking.
- Eat for reasons beyond the need for food.
- Hold false beliefs about food that prevent you from reaching you goals.
If we can remove the above three factors from the equation, we are left with only two times to eat.
- When we are actually hungry
- If we have decided we are going to eat (including ‘unhealthy’ foods and celebrations).
Physical hunger versus emotional appetite
It is important to separate the physiological need for food from the emotional appetite for it.
One is essential to survival and the other is a surefire way to ruin your goals!
The truth about hunger and weight loss
If you want to lose weight you will feel physiologically hungry and you won’t always be able to satisfy it. The process of ‘not having enough calories’ is what will cause your body to raid the stores of fat to release them for energy.
To make progress, you’ll need to feel hungry from time to time. The difference with physiological hunger is after 30 minutes your body will free up stored fat for energy use and your hunger will pass.
Emotional appetite does not follow the same rules.
You are experiencing emotional appetite and driven to emotional eating any time you are not eating based on hunger signals. Emotional eating is never useful and this handbook will help you remove this habit and develop a healthy relationship with all foods.
The five emotional eating habits
Action is the driver of all change.
We could write and talk about emotional eating all day, but only action creates change.
The emotional eating handbook has five active habits you can implement in order to create success.
Confronting emotional eating - 5 proactive habits
Emotional Eating Proactive habit 1 – write down your triggers
Actively try and highlight the moments you feel triggered to emotional eating.
- Is it boredom?
- Is it social events?
- Is it Fear?
- Do you feel anxiety?
- The smell of food?
When it comes to behaviour, awareness is nine tenths of the law. If you can successfully identify the triggers and moments that draw you towards emotional eating, you can start the process of overriding them and taking control of your decisions.
Your habit is to identify your triggers as they happen and create awareness
Emotional Eating Proactive habit 2 – pause
The most valuable gift we can learn in mastery of self, is the ability to pause and 'take a moment' before engaging in behaviour.
A profound pause that creates space for rationale.
Of all the habits we can create in defence of emotional eating this is the greatest of all.
While pausing for a single minute may seem such an insignificant amount of time, this moment creates a vast ocean between your emotions and your ultimate behaviour.
In the context of emotional eating that is groundbreaking.
Within the newly formed ocean between you and your action, your logical mind can rise to the surface and enter the debate. (That is not to say your logical mind will always win the argument, but at least it will enter the conversation.)
Within this minute, a number of questions can arise.
“Do I really want that piece of cake? Maybe a handful of nuts is better?”
“Am I actually hungry? Maybe I’m bored?”
“How am I going to feel afterwards. Is it worth it?”
Work at developing this habit into your daily routine in the same way you work at exercising every day.
Here is the habit:
- Whenever you are going to eat, set your phone/watch timer to 60 seconds.
- In that 60 seconds, bring rationale to your decision. Ask yourself questions about your hunger.
- Am I hungry or thirsty?
- Am I hungry or am I trying to change the way I feel?
- Are there healthier options I could eat instead?
- What other things could I do instead?
- How does this decision align with my goals?
- Is this ‘junk food’ part of my plan or is it driven by emotions.
- What am I actually looking to achieve?
- Am I bored? Do I feel angry? Am I frustrated?
- At the end of the 60 seconds, make the decision and take action accordingly.
- If, five minutes later, you get driven to emotional eating again, repeat the process. Before ANY food passes your mouth, your behaviour is to pause for 60 seconds.
That is the proactive emotional eating habit you are introducing to your life.
Eat plenty of vegetables ✓
Drink water ✓
Pause for a minute before eating ✓
Creating habits is central to success. Take every habit you build seriously if you believe that habit is important to your long-term success.
Emotional Eating Proactive habit 3 – control your environment
If the foods you desired when confronting emotional eating are not available then you can’t have them. If healthier foods and/or water are available you will have them instead.
This strategy really is that simple.
There is a two-step approach to controlling your environment.
Remove all temptations
- Clear your cupboards of tempting foods, treats and snacks that you know you would be tempted by if available. (We know this can be hard with small children, but not impossible.)
- Look to remove temptations from your car and anywhere else you may go.
- Remove temptations from work as much as possible. (We understand this can be hard.)
- Take minimum cash to places like the cinema or coffee shops, so you can only buy what you planned for and nothing more.
Have suitable replacements available at all times
- Make a list of healthy snacks you can enjoy (replacement snacks are a last resort).
- Have them available.
- Have a bottle of water available as a first solution all the time.
Note: This habit should be seen as a temporary habit rather than a permanent one.
Emotional Eating Proactive habit 4 – create a new habit
There is a saying in behaviour change circles.
If an inanimate object can do it, it’s not a behaviour. A chair can ‘not eat’ therefore, ‘not eating’ is not a behaviour.
If we are going to stop one behaviour, in this instance emotional eating, we need to replace it with another positive one.
What positive habits can you replace your emotional eating with?
- Drinking a glass of water?
- Taking five minutes of meditation?
- Walking 500 steps?
- Reading a book for five minutes?
- Doing 10 push ups?
- Find a positive habit that you can enforce to replace your emotional eating habit and make that a habit.
If you are an emotional eater you must take this as seriously as you take your daily workout for your goals.
Note: As a last resort you can have a healthy snack as your replacement behaviour but this is a short-term solution. As we are trying to avoid eating for emotions, so using food is not ideal.
Emotional Eating Proactive habit 5 – think sustainable
Feeling restricted and deprived of foods is not positive for long-term goals. As a result, people can be frightened to eat foods that have always been associated with comfort eating, but it is important to change your relationship with food if you want long-term success.
Provided you have a predominantly healthy diet, there will be no considerable difference to your diet between choosing a banana or a small chocolate bar or cookie as a snack.
Having reasonably sized snacks that you enjoy scheduled into your plan – those you have previously overeaten and felt guilty eating in periods of emotional eating – will change your relationships with these foods to a positive and enjoyable one.
No food is good or bad. It is just food.
You can have a balanced and enjoyable relationship with all types of food. Provided you either:
- Have them scheduled into your nutrition plan that is based around your goals.
- Eat when you are physiologically hungry.
- Do not eat when you are emotionally hungry.
The habits here are not ideas.
They are not concepts.
These habits are not words for you to read and agree with.
They are habits – like exercise or eating vegetables.
Taken from Transform for Life by Daniel and Alexandra Bartlett, available in hard copy February 2018.
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