Stress and other uncomfortable emotions happen. Emotional eating happens. I get it. I’ve been there. Rather than unconsciously eating your way through tough times, then beating yourself up about it, use your emotions as a guide to uncover what is really going on. Personally, once I connected with what I was really eating (hint: it wasn’t just food), I was able to get to work on resolving the underlying issues and wouldn’t you know it, the unconscious, emotional eating was replaced with conscious, self-aware eating that completely changed the way I show up not just with food but with everything in my life. Below I’m sharing my top five personal tips to comfort eat in a better way.
1. Know the Difference Between Emotional and Physical Hunger
Emotional and physical hunger are different. One of my favorite books, Intuitive Eating, offers that there are two tanks: an emotional tank and a physical tank. First ask yourself, “which tank is empty?” “Which one am I trying to fill?” “Am I physically hungry?” “Am I thirsty?” “How hungry am I (on a scale of 1-10)?” When I was first learning to work with comfort eating I would actually pose these questions to myself. It helped me to identify what I was hungry for, and which tank I was trying to fill. If you aren’t physically hungry but you still want to eat, then you are looking to fill your emotional tank.
2. Be Present
Once you’ve identified that you are feeling an emotional hunger, ask yourself if you really do want to eat or if you want to use another outlet to handle whatever emotion is coming up for you. If you decide to eat, then eat. Choose a food you love and a comfortable place to eat it. You’ve decided the way you want to deal with ___ (insert emotion; sad, lonely, bored, etc., here) is to eat ____(insert food here; ice cream, chips, mac & cheese, etc., here). So go ahead and do that. But do only that. Just eat. Don’t watch TV, read or check out the latest on Instagram. Being present with what you are doing brings attention to it and gives you the opportunity to reflect on it later.
3. Feel Your Feelings
Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can feel scary. But the more you ignore the uncomfortable feelings, the more they weigh on you. If you start to feel really uncomfortable with owning your choice to emotionally eat and being present with it, try doing something as simple as repeating to yourself what you are doing. Try saying “I’m comfort eating___ (this food) because I’m feeling__(this emotion).” In time you may find that simply identifying your hunger and being present with it is enough. You may not even choose to eat to deal with the emotion. You may pick another outlet like taking a walk, talking to a friend or simply reflecting on why that emotion is coming up for you.
Take a big, deep breath before you eat. Just because you are comfort eating doesn’t mean you have to be mindlessly eating. You will get the most comfort from whatever you are doing when you are in a calm, open and present state instead of just mindlessly pushing down emotions with food. Breathing can help with this because it can help you calm down and bring you into the present moment.
5. Write It Down
Once you’ve eaten, write it down. Write down the emotion you are feeling (sad, lonely, bored, etc.), the time of day, what was going on before you ate and the food you chose to eat. Write it down every time. Writing it down allows you to connect what you are doing to why you are doing it. Getting to the why allows you to start to uncover what’s really going on when you reach for that food. When you are able to uncover what is really going on that is when you will be able to make change. When you become more practiced with this you may want to try writing it down first, before you eat. You may find that’s enough and you don’t need the food to feel complete with the emotion.
One change can change everything, so I want to leave you with one more tip. In fact, if I was going to pick just one tip for you to take away it would be to this: let it go.
When you decide comfort eat, do it, don’t judge it, then let it go. It happened. Carrying it around with you will do nothing more than make you feel weighed down and perhaps even more likely to comfort eat again sooner because you are still hanging onto the uncomfortable emotion. This is why writing it down is so valuable; it provides you with an outlet to get the emotions out of your head so you can let it go and move on with your day.