How apt, as I write this I am nearing the end of an unusually unproductive day in which emotional eating has been anything but eliminated! Usually I’m the Rules Girl.
Structure guides my day and I love it that way. However an overly social Sunday afternoon saw me breaking my own rules and today I have paid the price!
Thankfully I know the damage is not serious, as I shall cover in the following tactics which I have compiled to enable you to escape emotional eating so that you can enjoy sustainable fat loss and the resultant increased confidence, energy, productivity and health it enables.
It’s scary to note that statistics now show that 95% of dieters are never going to lose weight if they focus on food and exercise alone. In this I quote Bill Phillips of Body for Life fame.
As with any transformation, the change must be effected beneath the surface for sustainability. At the level of beliefs, habits and emotional blocks that are behind the frustratingly common roller-coaster ride that sees the highs of clean eating, exercise and fat loss suddenly plummet back to the depths of self sabotaging habits, lack of results and a steadily diminishing hope that it can ever be any different.
First step is to be aware of the habits that are holding you back.
Here you are looking to understand the triggers for your emotional eating. Is it a time of day, a particular interaction or more so the feelings you experience after such an interaction?
This is one of the reasons filling in a food diary is so effective. It enables you to see the patterns with your food choices.
One of the most common instigators of emotional eating is stress.
Since stress is an inescapable component of life, the key is to find effective strategies to manage it – and to employ these strategies at the first hint of stress showing up. If you do not actively plan and choose your positive stress eroding tactics you will naturally turn to negative coping mechanisms such as emotional eating.
Here are a few to try:
Go for a jog or walk and enjoy the opportunity to zone out and clear your mind while at the same time utilizing ‘feel good’ endorphins.
Of course listening to a favourite song is always a great option. Even compiling your super happy playlist that is ready to lift you right back up.
Calling a good friend or writing 5 things you are grateful for right now are also effective.
I still find that sometimes food really is the only thing that’s going to cut it for me. In fact I found that today. At this time it’s more a matter of damage control rather than absolute elimination.
Hey I’m human I’m going to reach for something and something again and likely something again (!) so my tactic here is that no nutritionally void, fake and nasty food is allowed to live at my house.
I’m a carb girl. I used to eat a whole box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in one sitting. It was my break up food and there were way too many break-ups in my early 20’s! Anyway, back to the point at hand if it’s not in the house I can’t demolish it and extra lean protein and veggies just isn’t going to be catastrophic to my eating plan!
Beyond your habits there is also the matter of hormonal imbalance in the brain created by negative emotions and thoughts that can cause you to over-eat when you don’t even feel hungry.
Leading neurologist Ronald Ruden coined the term Bio-Balance to describe the natural state intended by mother nature when your brain is in a healthy state of mind. Conversely, when your brain is afflicted by toxic thoughts and negative emotions it will constantly work against you causing cravings which will inevitably lead to over-eating.
Put simply, when you are not experiencing bio-balance a brain neurotransmitter called serotonin becomes too low, and not only will you feel depressed, also another brain chemical called dopamine can become over active. Dopamine is the craving, seeking ‘gotta-have-it’ neurotransmitter that will drive you into a needy cycle of striving to ‘score’ a certain food, alcohol, cigarettes and even addictive behaviour. Once you get your ‘fix’ serotonin is released and you’re fulfilled for a brief period of time until the cycle begins again.
Another hormone to be aware of is cortisol.
Cortisol also comes out to play when your mind is out of balance as a result of mental and emotional stress. At times such as when you’re not getting enough sleep or when you’re burning the candle both ends with work and home commitments. Cortisol is a fat storing hormone, specifically it’s game is to direct fat straight to your abdominal area for storage.
Again you see the importance of employing effective strategies to manage your emotions; some more ideas to try are deep breathing, yoga and even eating a balanced meal every 3 hours can have strong effects on decreasing cortisol levels in as little as 2 weeks.
Now that hormonal imbalance and habits have been covered it’s time to arm yourself with some specific tactics to combat emotional eating.
A treat meal or morning once a week is a fantastic way to manage your nutritional desires by working in the food that you crave without feeling guilty.
My caveat here to qualify for a treat meal if your goal is fat loss – is that 90% of your eating needs to be clean, nutritionally rich food. If you’re already indulging in a daily treat you don’t need a treat meal and you’re likely not seeing the results you could be seeing.
That said, assuming you are following either sound nutritional guidelines. Such as primarily one ingredient based meals starting with plenty of fibrous veggies, lean protein + good fats and lots of water.
Or maybe you’re a rules dieter such as myself with an emotional attachment to food, who needs rules to succeed and actually find them freeing as you know what to eat when and can eat pretty perfectly during the week and then feel confident and content at your treat meal – well then enjoy that treat meal!
When choosing your treat meals be aware of the man made chemicals, preservatives and additives that have been assembly line injected into your favorite fake foods. It is frightening to think that the majority of the foods that sit on grocery shelves have been manufactured to last for months, years and in some instances decades.
The additives that extend their shelf life have also been proven to extend waistlines (1) and I’ll briefly explain how…
A couple of these additives interfere with the hormone leptin which is responsible for sending a signal from your stomach to your brain to tell you you’re full. Ever know that you should be full but keep eating and eating anyway?
Other additives boost fat-storing hormone insulin levels while simultaneously blocking fat-burning hormone glucagon.
Thirdly, though certainly not finally, other additives actually have been scientifically proven to alter your brain chemicals and addict you (1) causing uncontrollable eating and that absolute inability to ‘have just one’.
Where can these dangerous additive be found?
Pretty much wherever you look, wherever there is an ingredient listed that you don’t know. From salad dressings to cereals and especially in all those diet and low fat options that are promoted as being the healthy choice.
The tactic here is to choose nutritious rather than toxic options on your treat meal. The stuff that may be full of carbs and fat but not full of chemicals.
Need another incentive?
If you’re constantly feeding your body overly processed food, it will be missing out on the vital nutrients it needs to stay healthy and function efficiently. Your mind will literally scream at your stomach to eat more – read cravings and hunger – if you feed it more of the same nutrient-dead food it’ll just keep on crying out for more and the sorry cycle continues!
The final tactic to employ as you eliminate emotional eating is to enlist the support of your friends and family. Also to maximize your time with people who have similar goals or who are already there and are a source of inspiration to you.
Now this may not come as particularly unique news – however the statistics may be surprising to hear. Recently, doctors and researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition, undertook a unique study on the importance of social support in weight loss. Those who had a support system in place, to encourage them and keep them accountable during their weight loss journey, lost an average of 225% more weight over the two year study period. (2)
1. Erb John & Michelle. The Slow Poisoning Of America. 2003
2. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009; 360:859-873.