If you ever find yourself eating out of a carton of ice cream in deep distress, you may be an emotional eater. Trust us, you are not alone. According to a recent study, 38% of Americans admit to having overeaten or eating due to emotional circumstances in the last 30 days.
The struggle is oh-so-real.
So how do we handle it? How do we break the habit (because yes, it is considered a habit, given that it happens with a specific trigger, such as stress)?
We create new habits.
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” says, “This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
The primary issue, then, is changing the reaction to the stress trigger. When we have a bad day or receive bad news, or when our family is driving us crazy (and yes, it can be as simple as that), our reaction… the habit itself, CAN be changed.
First, let’s take a look at what CREATED the negative habits in the first place. Most likely the reason falls into one of the following categories:
Childhood Habits — If you were ever rewarded for good behavior with things like ice cream or pizza, some of your emotional eating could be instigated by that sense of nostalgia. In other words, it’s possible that your parents unintentionally planted the seed of treating food as a reward that has simply grown over time.
Boredom — What else is there to do if you’re not focused on something, or actively working/moving? Often, the times we overeat or splurge is when we’re sitting around with nothing better to do.
Hanging out with Friends — When your friends “splurge,” we find it comforting to follow suit. It feels like a normal thing when in reality, it will likely lead to sickening feeling later.
Stress — Sometimes, life just isn’t going our way. And in these moments, it often feels like the only comfort that will satisfy that dull feeling of disappointment and sadness. You may have heard the phrase “stuffing your emotions,” which is a great analogy. We think the food is going to offer us a distraction… a numbing avoidance of what’s really going on, which helps us to avoid the emotion or deal with the stress in a conducive manner.
Let’s take a look, then, at HOW we can change the reaction to EAT with something that will better our situation. These are simply our suggestions given our personal experience!
If you’re feeling lonely, call a friend or family member. Ice cream doesn’t communicate well, but Moms and girlfriends do!
If you’re feeling anxious, work out! If you’re feeling the anxiety jitters, it’s time to move. Go for a walk or run, or pop in that workout DVD to get the muscles pumping.
If you’re bored, make plans or tackle a home project. Sounds like a good day to clean out the closet! Focus your attention elsewhere.
The bottom line is this: being MINDFUL of your habits is the first step. Understanding the way you feel when you have the unhealthy urges is the first step to changing the habit. Consider implementing a 5 minute rule: When you feel the urge to grab the spoon, make yourself wait 5 minutes to see if the feeling passes. Most likely, it will.
Dealing with emotional eating is tough, but know that you are absolutely not alone, and that the negative cycle CAN be changed for the better. We believe in you! Reach out for help anytime.
Gym Owner/Personal Trainer
Jenny is a 6-Star Diamond Elite Team Beachbody Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She and her husband own RevolutionX Studio, LLC, a fitness facility in Fishers, Indiana.