Emotional Eating

Are you an emotional eater?

•    Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
•    Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
•    Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
•    Do you reward yourself with food?
•    Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
•    Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
•    Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

Did you answer yes to any of the questions above? 

Then chances are you, at times, battle with emotional eating. But if everyone emotionally eats then what’s the big deal right?
Well, it all depends on the individual really. If for instance, once or twice a month you had a “bad” meal and a glass of wine with dinner when you had had a bad day or received some form of negative news, then maybe you wouldn’t be too worried about it.


When it becomes something you need to address

It’s when those days become more and more frequent that they start to impact your life. Yes, they don’t do wonders for the waistline, but, more importantly, they hinder your goals. You’re often left feeling guilty about it the next day and, because you’re not achieving the goals you set yourself, you feel even worse! This can set off a nasty cascade of low self-esteem and bad decision-making in regards to food, drinking, exercise and everything else.

The first step is always awareness. 

So, if you answered yes to any of the questions above, then there has been or still is an issue with emotional eating. The best way to be aware of your eating behaviours is to keep two logs. 

One is a food diary. Simply record everything you eat and drink and what time it takes place for a week. You’d be amazed at what you find out about yourself when you do this. My clients always discover something about their eating habits when they start recording it. “Oh I always seem to snack on bad foods around 3-4pm.”

Two, an emotional eating diary. This is when you write down what you have eaten that you consider “bad”, and you then need to record what happened just prior to eating this food or what had happened that day that could have impacted your mood. Lastly, you record how you feel right after eating that food.

An example might be this.

Tuesday 11am – Had a second coffee – ordered a mocha instead of flat white and had a double chocolate chip muffin with butter.
What happened just prior to eating this food: My colleague Jane Doe made a snarky remark at me and my boss had just returned my report to me saying it wasn’t up to scratch.
How do you feel after eating this food: Full, a little sick, it was too sweet. But it tasted good at the beginning. Now I feel bad for eating it and now I need to get back to work, I have a meeting with Jane Doe. Now I feel anxious. 

Once you’ve done this for 1-2 weeks, you’ll start to pick up on patterns. There will be certain days, certain times of the day, certain people in your life and certain events that all link you to emotional eating. There will even be certain foods you crave!

Now that you have identified some patterns you can set some reminders and goals for yourself. Some patterns might be some the following:

– I know I crave sugar after I’ve had lunch out with colleagues and we’ve whinged about our boss
– I know I want wine at the end of the day when I’ve had back-to-back meetings with demanding clients
– I know I crave chocolate when I’m upset with my partner
– I know that when I get anxious or stressed during the day I want chocolate or carbs but at night I want alcohol

These patterns could really be anything – it’s extremely individual. The important part of this task is to recognise patterns, not to analyse them. What I then do with clients is we set goals on how we can manage this. So if it’s a time management issue or just a stressful/busy day – i.e. nothing negative happened you just barely have time to breathe let alone eat well – then we look at strategies of how we can change that. 
For e.g. Smoothies, protein balls or healthy snacks that are easy on the go, breathing exercises, taking a slow walk round the block before coming into the house and reaching for the wine, etc. Little things can make a difference on how you handle stress.