The Saga of Emotional Eating

I’ve labeled emotional eating a “saga” because …

… often times it seems that the theme of emotional eating is a never-ending story.

Since coming back from my trip to Greece/Italy it has been difficult to get back on my clean-eating habits. I typically eat 80-90% clean and allow 10% give/take of some fun food. But 5-weeks later I haven’t been able to get back on board. I’ve actually been sliding deeper and deeper into bad habits. I’ve had to take a time-out and pin point the cause. I’m not unhappy. I am stressed, but I think overall it’s manageable. After some soul-searching, I’ve realized what a deep impact this last trip to Greece made. I miss my family and I want to see them more often. I haven’t met all my goals to be able to see them as often as I’d like. So I feel the pressure. I’m being impatient with myself. I’m putting extra pressure on myself. I’m talking to myself negatively. Even if it’s happening quietly in the background, it’s impacting me.

Although I haven’t completely stopped eating healthy I have to admit I’ve had my fill of pasta (my comfort food) and anything bread, cheesy or carrot cake.

And I’m in health and fitness!? What?! Yup … and I’m still human. So if this is happening to me … I’m sure it’s happening or has happened to you. And it’s okay. The important thing is to notice it, pay attention and do something about it. I know I am!

95-98% of diets fail, and emotional eating is a key contributor to this discouraging statistic.

Why is it so Cyclical?

But why is it so difficult to stop it … or at least learn how to manage it so it doesn’t get out of control?!
It’s difficult because it’s directly tied to YOUR EMOTIONS. And by nature, we humans are driven by our emotions.

Using food as an occasional pick me up, reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gets ugly when eating becomes your primary emotional coping mechanism. Eating whatever junk food or over-indulging may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the emotional eating are still there. And on top of that, you often feel worse than you did beforehand because you ate too much, which makes you feel sluggish, fat, and powerless <insert self-bashing and negative self talk>.

Whatever emotions drive you to emotionally eat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and you may also now bear the additional burden of guilt about setting back your fitness goals. This then can lead to an unhealthy cycle: your emotions trigger you to overeat or eat crap, you beat yourself up and talk poorly to yourself, you feel bad, and you overeat again.

The Saga of Emotional Eating

Different Forms of Emotional Eating  

It’s not just limited to over-eating … emotional eating comes in a variety of forms like:

    1. Comfort Food — When you’re hungry, your appetite can be physically satisfied with healthy foods like lean meats and veggies. But when emotional hunger strikes you instead crave fatty, sugary or salty foods and feel like you need pizza, cookies, or chips and like nothing else will cut it.
  1. Mindless Eating — You blink and you’ve eaten an entire pint of ice cream or bag of chips.
  2. Sudden Hunger — It hits you instantly. You feel like your hunger is overwhelming and urgent. Where physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually.

But, unfortunately 5 minutes after you eat emotionally you instantly regret it, feel guilty or shame.

Don’t workout to eat. Eat to workout! 

The Triggers

Emotional eating is a means to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, fear, sadness, anger, boredom, worthlessness and loneliness. Both major life events and daily life stresses can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating that disrupt your healthy lifestyle efforts. These triggers include:

  • Work stress
  • Financial issues
  • Unemployment
  • Health problems
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of exercise

Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating

  1. Identifying your triggers —  What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? This can be negative or even positive emotions so keep that in mind.
  2. Keep a journal and write out your feelings — This is a good tool for so many things, not just emotional eating. If you’re consistent in keep up with this effort, you’ll not only see a pattern emerge about your eating habits, but also other areas in your life that you may want to work on … or even celebrate!
  3. Feed your feelings in other healthier forms — When your triggers arise, call a friend, blast some music, read a book, watch a funny movie, take a bath (not shower) or take a walk. Distract yourself with something else that will soothe you.
  4. Wait 15 Minutes — This is a great trick! Literally… wait 15 minutes before you cave, and I bet that craving will most likely go away. This will give you time to talk to yourself to identify your triggers and feed your feelings with something healthier!
  5. Create NEW Healthy Habits — make exercise part of your daily routine, find new ways to relax like meditation, read personal development books, pick up a new hobby.

30% Gym. 70% Diet. Eat Clean … Train Dirty. Be Patient. Push Forward.


5 thoughts on “The Saga of Emotional Eating”

  1. I know exactly what your going through. Great blog post. Its hard to preach good eating and healthy habits as a fitness coach, especially when we aren’t on board 100% ourselves. On a positive note we must be realistic with ourselves, and let our clients know that we are people too. We can’t be perfect all the time. Keep up your hard work, its always appreciated <3!

  2. Are you familiar with the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch? It was one of the first books recommended to me during ana treatment, and I know it’s also widely used to address emotional eating in general. I love the idea that as long as you have a well-grounded mind-body connection (which has to be developed, due to all the darn triggers hanging around), there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food. Once the emotion is removed (and it’s ok if sometimes it’s consciously NOT) we’re likely to eat the types and amounts of food we need and can stop being slaves to the guilt and calorie counting!

  3. I can relate to all of these scenarios! Emotional eating is real. I did it today, in fact. It has been tough for me lately as I recover from an injury. But, since adopting an overall healthier lifestyle (tip #5) I cave less and am able to forgive myself an move on more. I will be thinking of you! Try not to stress, you have the strategies to cope…you can do it! Thanks for sharing this helpful information. 🙂

  4. I’m such an emotional eater, but didn’t realize it until these last two or three weeks. Sweets have been my fall back. In fact, I don’t even want a meal. I just wanted any sweet treats: chocolates, deserts, etc… And my hubby loves to eat them and buy them for me. Now that I’m slowly dealing with- and realizing I’m an emotional eater- I’m digging into the fact that I’m not processing some emotional events. I’m feeling better now and I know because I’m not craving sweets anymore! AT ALL. Still working on getting back on track though.

  5. This I can totally relate to. Thanks for the tips and advice. I’m working on trying to get back into the workout mode but it’s so hard! I for a fact know that not working out has thrown me off completely!

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