emotional eating

There’s a public service announcement that plays on local TV in my town where a “weight loss expert” describes her solution to staying thin (notice I said thin, not healthy). Her big secret? Spitting out food. Seriously. This “expert’s” weight loss secret is to take a cookie, a bite of cake, or a piece of candy, put it in her mouth, chew it up, and SPIT it out. That’s her idea of how to stop emotional eating.

Please. Like we haven’t thought of that?

I bet you can list a dozen or more tricks or tips to distract, distance, shame, ruminate, plan, and cajole yourself into eating something, not eating something, or simply feeling bad about eating something. You certainly don’t need some so called expert to offer their disordered eating tips too.

The thing you don’t know (and that she certainly doesn’t) is how you came to be hovering over the cookie in the first place.

So how do you figure it out?

The formula is pretty simple. Something triggers an emotional response. The emotional response feels uncomfortable, and you react by engaging in some food-related behavior. The food-related behavior can serve as a distraction (cooking, shopping, planning, mindlessly eating), as a comforter or soother (there’s a reason we call it comfort food), or even as an attempt at control what’s happening around you (weighing in, creating a new meal plan, over exercising, etc.). That’s why we call emotional eating. And that’s the first thing we need to know in order to learn how to stop emotional eating in its tracks.

The trick is discovering what triggered the response, then defusing it the next time it comes around.

I had my own bout of unknown trigger creating unwanted action this week, only instead of engaging in an act of mindless eating, I did some mindless cleaning – and put my husband’s still wet gloves away. In the middle of the search for the much-needed gloves and the argument that ensued upon finding them wet and useless, I realized that my cleaning had nothing to do with cleaning and everything to do with me trying to gain some control over what had been a particularly anxious day.

Trigger:  Unfinished work.

Emotion:  Anxiety/fear.

Reaction:  Cleaning in an attempt to feel a sense of comfort and control.

So, what made me figure this out. I listened to the excuses coming out of my mouth. The biggest (and loudest) one – “I just wanted things to seem organized” pretty much explained it all. Notice that I didn’t say I wanted things to be organized. I just wanted them to SEEM that way. Then I would feel okay.

Yeah. Wasting an hour running around looking for gloves and arguing with my husband – not exactly feeling okay.

But, I must admit, the epiphany was worth it. Just recognizing the futility of what I was doing was enough to change my future behavior. I replaced cleaning my external environment with cleaning my internal one. It’s working. For the past week, my formula has looked like this:

Trigger:  Unfinished work.

Emotion:  Anxiety/Fear

Reaction:  Breathe. Stretch. Journal about what I am feeling. Get back to work.

Easy and it works. I don’t run from the emotion. I sit with it a minute. I figure out what it’s telling me. Then I get back to work. No wet gloves. No mad husband. No remorseful me. Can’t beat that.

So, how do you go about targeting, and ultimately taming, your emotional triggers? How  do you learn how to stop emotional eating?

All you have to do is click. I put together the following activity to help you get in touch with and tackle the emotional triggers in your life. My TargetingYourTriggers activity is yours free. Please give it a try, then leave a comment below or email me and let me know how it works for you.

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