How to Fix Emotional Eating

I mentioned in a previous post that March is National Nutrition Month and the theme this month is Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.

Eating right is about so much more than the foods we choose. It’s not just what we eat that determines health, but when, how, and most importantly why we eat.

After years of working with weight loss clients I find that their number one concern is emotional eating – eating to fill a void. Heck, this is common in normal-weight people too. Think of all of the reasons why we eat – we are sad, we are lonely, we are celebrating, we are bored, we are anxious, we are scared, we are frustrated…the list can go on and on. None of those reasons have anything to do with hunger or fueling our bodies.

It’s ok. Food is meant to be enjoyed and can be a fun part of our lives, as long as we aren’t using it to cope with other emotions.

I recently read Dr. Pamela Peeke’s book The Hunger Fix. In the book, she talks about False Fixes that release dopamine and make us food good. False fixes can include decadent food, gambling, sex, drugs, endless computer usage or TV, you name it. Essentially, she is talking about the futile cycle of trying to fill a need with something that will temporarily make us feel good but not fill the true hunger.

Of course you can look back on a situation and realize that the glass of wine is not going to fill your need for peace and restoration, the chocolate cake is not going to fill your need to be loved and accepted, and the chips are not going to fill your need to feel appreciated at work. But in the moment, it is easy to turn to what makes us feel better. We do get a temporary satisfaction with these fixes.

We have to be able to look at our lives, when we are not in those trying moments, and determine an alternative fix. We have to stop judging or hating ourselves long enough to think of options that heal.

It helps to write it down (yes, do the work of getting a pen and paper now). Write down your false fixes. I’m guessing when it comes to food, you tend to choose either sweet or salty kinds of fixes. Then make note of what precedes the fix – fighting children, a crazy day at work, or a sappy song. You may have to take some time to think about this. Try to determine the need you are looking to fill with the fix. Then list options for a healthy fix that will help you feel better and fill your need. For instance, when you are feeling lonely, don’t reach for the gallon of ice cream but rather call a friend or family member.

When you have your list completed, post it where you will see it often – maybe on your refrigerator. Don’t worry if this process takes time and you fall into old habits. Show yourself some compassion as you are working on the change.

Of course, if you need a more in-depth dive into your emotional eating habits, I recommend that you read Dr. Peeke’s book or talk to a Dietitian. Even talking to a friend can help to give you perspective, as long as they aren’t the enabling kind.

We all practice a degree of emotional eating. If yours is stopping you from living a healthy happy life, do the work to fix your fix.

photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

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