What does eating your emotions mean?
Eating your emotions means you suddenly have the overpowering urge to grab a chocolate bar or bag of chips, you succumb to it, and eat it up in a hurry. In reality, you’re not hungry, but it feels good to eat this junk food at this exact moment. Something is bothering you and this is the quick-fix solution your brain suggests. That’s because your brain perceives this food — that is not particularly good for you — as a reward. Something that will make you feel better. The thing is, once you’re done eating it, the negative emotions are still there and you now feel guilty about having eaten that food.
Have you noticed how these cravings come at a time when your emotions are heightened and unpleasant? Even the small stuff can make us behave this way. And a lot of that small stuff happens at work.
Why do we see food as a reward?
You are probably eating your emotions because you perceive and use food as a reward. It becomes a way to offset your emotions. That is where lies the root of the problem. And that is also why most diets fail.
What are your triggers? Are you eating your emotions at times when you feel stressed, tired, or frustrated? What about when you dread the work you have to do, or are overwhelmed by your workload? Maybe you’re worried about organizational changes that were just announced and what this will mean for you.
For many of us, it probably started as a kid. For example if our parents used desert to reinforce good behavior. So we associated «the food that is not so healthy but tastes really good» as a way to treat ourselves. This article from the university of Rochester Medical Center encourages parents to not use food this way. “When sweets or chips are given as a reward, they may become more appealing. This leads children to develop a preference for them instead of healthier foods with nutritional value.”
Don’t diet, do this instead
If you’re trying to lose weight, please don’t diet. Press delete on this word. I strongly believe you should erase it from your vocabulary. Diets condition your mind into thinking that you need to deprive yourself of food to lose weight. The result is that you may become obsessed with food. My mother spent her life on diets, trying every new fad. She would lose weight over a 2-month period, then go back to her old feeding habits, and gain the weight again. Disappointed, she would start over…It’s exhausting to always have that feeling of guilt about food.
Instead of loosing weight by following a diet, you must reprogram you brain into wanting to eat healthy (which may include eating less). Your ultimate goal becomes to recognize that eating healthy IS the reward that brings satisfaction. Be patient, this will take time. You cannot change your eating habits over a few months. But this approach brings permanent change, contrary to diets.
How to break the habit of eating your emotions
Eating healthy IS the reward. Change how you think about food. Eat healthier. Change your habits slowly and progressively. Be realistic. Small changes at a time. The more you do it, the more you’ll notice the positive impacts it has on your energy level. And you’ll feel good about yourself, knowing you’re taking care of your health. Which should be the right recipe for wanting to continue.
I have been slowly changing my habits for a couple of years now. Yes, years. The goal was not to lose weight, but nevertheless, I wanted to start cutting on sugar, and red meat, increase my daily portions of vegetables, and so on. Looking back to where I started, the progress is enormous. Yet, there is still lots of room for improvement — sugar being my weakest point. But that’s ok. What’s important is that the changes I’ve made are now part of my normal eating habits. And I wouldn’t go back to the way I was eating before — the temptation is not even there.
Bring healthy snacks to your office. It’s 3 pm and you really need a snack to get your mind off of whatever is bothering you? Something sweet or greasy would taste so good at the moment? Why not eat something that’s good AND healthy. It may not be easy to stop eating your emotions. But if you bring your own healthy snacks at work, you’ll be able to control what you eat. That way you don’t have to rely on vending machines that don’t offer much else than junk food. And you’ll skip the guilt factor. Having your own snacks at hand can also be a savior if you’re working long hours.
Here are some snacks ideas you can keep in your desk for those sudden cravings:
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao – 80% is better). Just a couple of pieces will satisfy your craving for sugar.
- Healthy protein or granola bars.
- Bag of “trail mix” (dried fruits, seeds, nuts).
- Fruits, like banana, orange or apple.
- Popcorn (plain).
Don’t stay hungry. When we’re very hungry, we are less likely to make the right choice of food. Plus, running on an empty stomach is not the answer if you want to have good levels of energy and productivity to get you through your work day. This implies starting your day with a nutritious breakfast, followed with a light lunch to avoid feeling drowsy in the afternoon.
Take a pause. Don’t act impulsively. Wait a few minutes before you succumb to the temptation. Tell yourself it can wait 15 minutes. Make yourself some tea or go talk to a colleague. There’s a good chance the urge will pass. By then you’ll be aware your emotions are playing tricks on you. And will be able to talk yourself out of it.
Try these tricks and let me know what you think. Also, if you happen to have an amazingly GOOD AND HEALTHY snack recipe, do share it with your sisters in the comment section below!