Ep 15 – 5 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating

In this weeks podcast, we look at 5 steps that we can take to help us overcome emotional eating.

If you have any more questions on this topic, please feel free to get in contact.

More here: BLOG: 5 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating, PODCAST: Ep 14 – Building Body respect when you need help with an Eating Disorder

Episode 15 Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode where I’m going be talking all about emotional eating and giving you five steps that you can really explore and get curious in practicing to see if it can help you perhaps alleviate or reduce the episodes of binge or emotional eating that you are experiencing. So emotional eating, a lot of people will label themselves as emotional eaters. And I suppose the first thing I’d like to say, and I know I’ve said this on previous podcasts, that being an emotional eater is a very human thing and it is a very normal thing. We are humans that are hardwired by emotions. And when we experience emotions that often they are they can be experienced perhaps as feeling unpleasant in our body, and we don’t like that and we want to find ways of soothing that. We want to find ways of easing that.

And the reality is, is that food can do a very, very effective job. You know, pretty much instantaneously chocolate can soothe, chocolate can comfort. We also have very deeply ingrained relationships with foods like chocolate as well because these are foods that probably we were comforted with, rewarded with, bribed with, you know, going way back to childhood. So we have a very long standing relationship with these types of foods that we often reach out for whenever we are feeling emotional. And actually I, I spoke with a client yesterday and she was recalling kind of episodes from childhood where, you know, being around at Granny’s like home life wasn’t very happy. It wasn’t great, it was unhappy. And so she would escape from her home, go around to her granny’s and her granny’s way of just trying to help her make her feel better was to give her lots of sweets to give her chocolates.

And granny’s was a safe space. Granny’s was where she was loved unconditionally. And so it’s no surprise now as an adult in that granny has passed and that at times when she’s experiencing distress or upset, she’s reaching for these foods because that’s just taken her right back to granny’s, you know, and feeling loved by granny. So, what this can really, that little example can really is just how deeply connected we are sometimes to these foods, that it’s not just a case of willpower, it’s not just a case of saying, ‘well, I’m not going to have these foods anymore’, or I’m just going to quit and stop emotionally eating. It’s about really trying to acknowledge and appreciate that perhaps these, this connection and this relationship is very deep rooted and on some level almost when you’re saying to yourself that you’re not going to do it anymore or that you shouldn’t be doing it or that you can’t have it anymore, it’s almost like you and on some level are denying yourself love and denying yourself comfort.

And that’s what it will feel like in your subconscious. You know, that one part of you really wants to stop this behavior, but another part that’s has that very long deep relationship with this food is in total conflict with that because it believes that it’s supporting you, it’s helping you, it’s giving you love. And why on earth would you want to let that go? So it’s important I think just if you do struggle with emotional eating and you torture yourself about it, I bet if you were to reflect back, if you were to think back over your childhood, you probably have lots and lots of examples. Similar to the granny story of food being connected to pleasure, reward, comfort, you know, and that these things are you know, they, they are in your subconscious mind. Those memories are there. And, and so what you’re doing is just carrying out a conditioned pattern, which is why it can be tricky to overcome.

So, I’ve already just got sidetracked on the podcast going down the little story route, but I just wanted to explain that because I think it’s so important to understand why, why our relationship with food is so complex and why just changing and dropping behaviors is pretty damn difficult. So first thing is again, just maybe to distinguish a little bit that there is a difference between emotional eating and binge eating disorder because I think sometimes people, they might describe themselves as an emotional eater when maybe actually what they’re doing is binge eating. And likewise, some people might describe themselves as binge eaters, but what they’re actually doing is that they’re emotionally eating. And I think that a lot of the time how we perceive our eating is very much subjective, but there is actually a something that can distinguish between emotional eating and binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is a more severe condition. It is a mental health condition and it’s really characterised by like recurrent episodes of binge eating and it really is consuming large amounts of food. We would classify it as unusually large amounts of food consumed in a short period of time, usually over a two-hour period. And it’s a eating large amounts of food within that period with a sense of feeling out of control. And often that there are intense feelings of kind of guilt and shame afterwards. There’s often an awful lot of secrecy attached to it as well. So I just wanted to kind of distinguish a little bit, and if you are struggling with binge eating disorder, and certainly if you’ve been struggling with it for a long period of time, it might be something that you want to maybe pursue some more personal one-to-one support to overcome.

 Okay, so moving on to then look at, right, I’m an emotional eater and I know that this is becoming a problem, like this is the way that I cope with life’s difficulties. This is the way I cope with daily stresses, this is the way I cope with work and I know it’s becoming a problem because it’s becoming like a daily habit. If that feels like you, like this is an issue, then what I’m going to do is just kind of talk through five steps that you can maybe begin to explore and see can you put into practice that might be helpful to you. So the first thing I would get you to consider is really trying to decipher between is this, this desire to eat, this craving or this urge that I’m experiencing? Is this emotional hunger or is this physical hunger?

Okay. And just to kind of give you an idea of what the difference between the two is. So physical hunger means I’m hungry, <laugh>. So physical hunger that tends to be more, it builds gradually. So for most of us, most of us will feel hungry every three to four hours or so. So what we’ll do is that we’ll start to notice a gradual increase in our hunger levels. Physical hunger usually can wait that you might notice you’re feeling a little bit hungry, but it’s not like I have to eat this second, you know, you can finish your tasks, finish whatever you’re doing, and then go and get food. Physical hunger is open to options. So it’s not that there’s only like a specific food that you’re going to eat, that you’re, you might be considering what you would like. What are your options high hungry, do you feel?

Is it hot today? Is it cool today? What might be a better choice for me to eat? So physical hunger can be satisfied by a whole variety of foods. And generally when you satisfy physical hunger, you don’t feel guilt or shame. So naturally, emotional hunger is the opposite to that. So emotional hunger tends to come on very suddenly and feel very intense. It tends to need your instant attention. So when you have this craving, this desire for food, you want it straight away and nothing but that particular food is going to satisfy that. And if you can’t get it, you might go to the lengths of like leaving the house or going to the shop or whatever it is to get that specific food and is attached to great sense of guilt and shame after you’ve eaten it. So that’s the first thing to really be able to determine is this actual physical hunger or is this emotional hunger?

 And that’s a really important thing to distinguish between the two and something that we can often struggle with and particularly if we’re people like I’ll say an awful lot in clients maybe who are incredibly busy and are always like rushing and are very externally focused, very externally focused on tasks and work and getting things done and being busy. And then they’ll say, oh, you know, I just got to this point in the day and then I just couldn’t help myself and I had to have sugar and I was eating, you know, all these sweet foods I was eating all around me. But actually when we look at it and we look at when the last time they ate was that they possibly haven’t ate for five or six hours. So what I would really question there is was that emotional hunger or was that actually that you were just physically hungry but you hadn’t stopped to check within to notice if that’s what it could be and that you’ve just gone straight for sugar.

And actually what you probably needed in that moment was a meal, a proper meal. So if we’re very disconnected from our body, if we’re very disconnected from our signals and our cues that sometimes we might be reaching for food, assuming that this is an emotional response or an emotional thing, when actually it’s just physical hunger. So it’s a really good thing to be able to try and notice and observe the difference between those two. Then step number two is to understand what your triggers are. This is where journaling can be really helpful, that if you do even just for a week, if you were to keep a journal of everything you eat along with times and then when you do have periods of emotional eating, just in retrospect kind of making a little note of like what was going on, what were the circumstances, what was the situation?

Because that can be really helpful as well at saying, is this something I have any input over? Is this something I have any control over? So, another really common one, like the, the example I’ve just given is for people who are incredibly stressed, particularly with work stress or just in general life stress, I can see a real thing in that a lot of my clients would be people pleasers. They have real difficulty holding boundaries. They have difficulty saying no and they’ve difficulty actually meeting their own needs and will put everybody else’s needs before their own. And so with those sorts of triggers, what, when I’m working with clients, what I’ll be trying to do is to say, right, your emotional eating, it’s really clear to see that your emotional eating is like at the end of the day it’s when people have stopped making demands on you.

It’s when you have like your first moment to yourself and eating and reaching for food is just a way for you to totally disconnect, to tune the world out, to soothe and to relax. And so with clients like that, what I would be wanting to look at is, is there any way that we can actually work on the boundary setting? Is there a way that we can work on being more assertive? Is there a way that we can work on like delegating, letting go of things so that we can actually try and minimise you getting to this place at the end of the day when you’re so totally burnt out that food is the only thing that you want? Or can we look at bringing in strategies throughout the day, like taking rest periods, being away from your desk and, and you know, finding things that we can introduce throughout your day so that again, by the time you’re getting to the end of the day, that you don’t feel like you just want to slump in a corner and like disconnect from the world.

So ideally we want to be able to understand what your emotional eating triggers are to see is there anything that you can do from a preventative place? So for you it could be something like tiredness is a big trigger and you know, without stating the obvious, are you sitting up having just one more episode of Netflix? Are you having the third or the fourth glass of wine the night before? Are you skipping breakfast in the morning because you are so tired you sleep in and then you’re rushing and you miss breakfast? And are all those factors contributing to you perhaps emotionally eating through tiredness and again, well, what can I do about that? How do I ensure that I’m getting a good night’s sleep? How can I maybe give myself alcohol free nights? How can I ensure I’m getting up at the same time every day so my body clock is regulated and these all seem maybe a like quite obvious things, but we don’t do obvious things as humans, we do the things that we like and that we want to do even when they’re not particularly helpful to us.

So doing that journal, noticing your triggers is a really good way of being like, right, is there anything I can do to almost prevent or minimise me even getting to this point in the first place? Step three then is identify your emotions before you eat using the halt technique. I have done another podcast on this and I can link to it and link to the blog about it in the, in the show notes. But really simply halt is a little technique where you’re just trying to create a pause between the experiencing the urge to eat, the desire to eat, and the actual putting the fit in your mouth is that you are asking yourself the following questions, am I hungry? Am I angry, am I lonely or am I tired? And what you’re literally just doing there is creating the pause to be able to turn your attention within, which were not great often at doing and really deciding what is going on here for me.

So a bit like the example I gave earlier where the person’s just looking round them for sugar that if they were able to actually do that little halt and they were to ask the question, am I hungry? And then realize that they had net for six hours, that might help them in making the decision to go and get a meal as opposed to just reaching for chocolate and reaching for sugar. And when you’re asking those questions, okay, am I hungry? And then maybe you’re ruling it out, am I angry? You’re ruling that out? Am I lonely? You’re maybe ruling that out. Am I tired actually, do you know what, I slept really badly last night and I really notice I’m just craving caffeine and sugar all day. That you, you can then kind of start to notice, understand your triggers and what do I actually really need in this moment?

You know, do I need I’ve been staring at the laptop for 12 hours. Do I actually need just to get some fresh air? Do I need to step outside? Do I need to take a 10 minute walk and go for a walk around my block? What do I, what do I really need in this moment? Then number four is develop coping strategies for managing this emotion. So this is just kind of building on the halt technique is how do I respond to whatever these emotions are and what would be healthier coping strategies in order to manage them? And I think this is very much a case of trial and error and that you have to find the types of strategies that really do work with you and sit with you. So for example, I have tried doing meditation lots of times I find it just isn’t me, it isn’t something that I engage in particularly well.

 And I often end up just getting frustrated and a bit irritated with it, but you might love meditation. So it’s about really finding what does genuinely help to soothe you and calm your nervous system. I would be much more inclined to, if I’m feeling like really tense, really overwhelmed, really emotional walking for me is like walking’s my medicine. Everything just feels better after a walk. If I can’t get out for a walk it would maybe be something like doing just some breathing exercises, maybe a little bit of stretching or it would be soaking in an Epsom salt bath. So those things for me are kind of, that’s they’re my go-tos when I’m feeling a bit crap, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, when I’m feeling agitated. Those are what I would do for other people that might be journaling, it might be meditation, it could be going for a run, it could be phoning up a friend.

 So, it’s about really trying to decipher for you what would be in your little toolkit, you know, what would be in your little emotions coping toolkit that these are the things that I can do when I’m feeling this way that I know are going help me to feel better. And I suppose what I should acknowledge here is that that can be really difficult because food is instant. And so I fully acknowledge and appreciate that going for a walk feels so much harder than eating the chocolate bar. And it’s true, it does feel so much harder. So, it’s not that you are going be able to make more supportive choices, make the better choices all of the time. There’s probably going be some times where your brain just tells you, do you know what Sara? I just want the chocolate. And you just eat the chocolate.

And if that happens, it’s so important that you are just accepting of that and that you don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you’ve done that, that you’ve just had that moment of being human and decided, you know, stuff that I’m having the chocolate anyway. But what we want to be able to practice is that sometimes you’re able to make those more supportive choices and the more that you make those more supportive choices like the going for a walk and you notice how much better you feel after you’ve gone for the walk, that that will help encourage you again in future occasions when these triggers come up that you know, actually that I felt so much better when I had done the walk the last time, so I’m gonna do it again. And then step five is increasing tolerance for all emotions, even the bad ones.

And I think this is a really important one because we don’t like to feel negative or what we perceive to be negative emotions. We don’t like to experience anger. We don’t like to experience stress, we don’t like to experience tension, disappointment, frustration. And I think especially as women, we don’t like to feel these feelings. And particularly anger would be would be a big one that it’s maybe we’ve been conditioned a little bit that it’s not very feminine. It’s not very womanlike to be angry or express anger or show your anger. And so women would have a tendency more so to internalise those feelings and try and suppress those feelings or say that those feelings are bad in some way. That I shouldn’t feel angry, I shouldn’t feel resentful, I shouldn’t feel these feelings and then feel even worse about the fact and give ourselves a really hard time about the fact that we’re feeling these negative feelings.

And so the being accepting of all feelings is about really I guess trying to have more compassion for yourself in that it’s okay and it is safe for you to feel these feelings and it’s also okay for you to sit with these feelings, you know, so sit with the feeling of like being really frustrated about something that’s happened or being feeling angry at something that has been said or that has been done and that rather than it being I have to get rid of these feelings because these feelings are bad, just asking yourself, can I sit with this? Can I sit with this feeling a little bit longer and a little bit longer and a little bit longer? Whilst also considering ways of helping yourself through those emotions and, and things like the going for the walk or whatever it is that those things might help you, but that it’s not something that you have to get rid of.

That being human is also about having a whole range of emotions, the highs, the lows, the goods, the bad, and that sometimes that those emotions are very appropriate. Like it’s appropriate to be angry in certain situations. And so it’s okay for you to acknowledge and to accept those feelings. Okay, so those are the five, five steps, five stages to overcoming emotional eating. I will do a little link to the halt blog in the show notes and anything else that might be relevant for you, but I hope that they find that helpful. If you have any questions or any comments, you know, that you can fire me over a little DM on Instagram, on Eatology UK or you can put a little comment on the podcast link. Alright, lovely to talk to you and I’ll see you again soon. Bye.

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