How To Stop Emotional Eating? Don’t Restrict But Do Change Habits
I never advise people to restrict their diets. And any time I’ve done that myself in the past it’s only ever ended in failure. Actually no. On that note, I’ll be deleting the word ‘failure’ from my life. Nothing is ever a failure. Anyway I’m sure many of you can relate to the above situation.
And that is because willpower is finite. Yes you can use sheer willpower to change your behaviours, and it may work for while, but it won’t last. This is something I learnt from the book The Power Of Habit, which I highly recommend.
Habits on the other hand do last.
So what’s the difference?
Well let’s start with what is it you are trying to change.
I’ll use myself as an example. A habit that has crept back into my life is emotional eating. So let’s get any high-horse-ness out of the way. Emotional eating is extremely normal and I’ve never met a female who doesn’t experience it. So rest assured if you relate, you are not alone.
Honestly there is not relationship to food that doesn’t involve emotion, be it positive or negative. We are hard wired to enjoy eating and to seek out food. Additionally all throughout history, humans have used food to celebrate, to gift, to show love, to show sacrifice – literally everything, and all emotionally involved. It’s a lot more than just eating because you are hungry.
And also I’d like to flip this view that emotional eating is bad. It can be a good thing. I enjoy eating. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy baking and I enjoy eating with friends and family. It’s something I look forward to every day and I am grateful that I have access to something everyday that brings me and others joy.
You SHOULD enjoy eating and food – in fact one of my missions is to make sure of it. So many people have such negative connotations with food – they think it’ll make them fat, they think it’ll cause people to judge, or they have negative emotions that arise because of some childhood food experiences. This breaks my heart. Food and eating is such an amazing thing and it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.
Classic Liv tangent (I get fired up about this stuff)… Back to habits.
So while it’s quite a complicated topic, for me I know one of my biggest downfalls is eating when I’m not hungry – basically it’s snacking outside of main meals. Now this may not be the case for everyone, some may emotionally eat by overeating at meal times, some may emotionally eat by binging on junk food at night, some may emotionally eat by eating comfort foods they know they don’t even want. I don’t really have those issues so it’s important to recognise where your downfalls are (this is something I can’t tell you but you have to figure out on your own).
For me, I don’t choose unhealthy food, I don’t binge on junk food and I don’t overeat at meal times – but I do find myself snacking on healthy foods even just one hour after I’ve eaten a big satisfying lunch, then I’ll also have too much cheese as my cooking snack, and too many blobs of cookie dough while I’m testing a new recipe… You get the picture.
Tangent again. This is completely a first world problem and I’ll be the first to admit it. But the thing is – it stops me from achieving my ultimate goal – waking up every day happy to be alive and excited for the day ahead – because it’s basically me doing things that don’t align with my true self – read this for a back story.
I’m not about restricting food if you want something. What I am about is not doing things you don’t want to do. Often I’ll eat something delicious (even if I’m not hungry) because I really truely want that joy and experience, and after that I feel great. It’s when I’m eating for another reason that it doesn’t feel great. You know when you think “I didn’t even want to eat that why did I eat it?!” – this is the exact scenario I’m talking about. It’s out of alignment, and is often something people run to when negative emotions are experienced, because eating something delicious offers distraction, not offers a dopamine release and it offers happiness and pleasure. It’s natural to turn to these things when you feel off-centre.
So instead of trying to fight these behaviours with willpower, which would look like “I’m not eating outside of 3 main meals”, which is restriction and can very quickly lead to “ah well I already ate outside of a meal time, may aswell have a big cookie and ice cream and a heap of cheese now even though I don’t want it.”
I hack my habits instead.
The habit loop consists of:
The cue – emotions for me stress, sadness, bleh feeling
The action – eating food
The reward – dopamine release, pleasure, distraction
Again, this is all a philosophy from The Power Of Habit.
So instead of just trying to willpower my way out of this bad habit, I just change the action within this habit loop. Because the cue is always going to be there, and the reward is always going to be something that I crave.
So this week I’m going to do 10 downward dogs or meditate for 5 minutes every time my cue hits to snack or eat something when I’m not hungry (for me I know this is the case if it’s within around 4 hours of having eaten a meal).
It takes weeks to change habits, some say 3 weeks, some say 8 weeks, some even more. But basically I just focus on doing this until I don’t even think about it any more… Aka it’s become a habit! This is the gold standard of health goals. You want things to become natural so you don’t even have to think about it (as long as they are healthy practices and not disordered like starvation etc).
Another thing is that I like to focus on one thing at a time. I don’t go crazy and try and change all my habits in one go… As I know this is a great way to give up on all of them. I just simply work on one habit at a time and this is how you get effortless results. Because that’s what habits are – they operate without you ever having to think about it. And this is the goal with chasing healthy practices that align with your centre, effortless change instead of force and trauma.
Need some help with emotional eating? Let me guide you through in my signature program The Sweetness Beyond Sugar. There is an entire module on habits… Let’s get to the bottom of your sugar habits!