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3 Ways to Stop Eating Your Feelings

Note from Joy: I am thrilled to have the brilliant Natalie Shay, Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counsellor do a guest post for me. I read her newslet
Sep 20, 2012 | Joy McCarthy

Note from Joy: I am thrilled to have the brilliant Natalie Shay, Psychotherapist and Stress Management Counsellor do a guest post for me. I read her newsletter weekly and always enjoy her wise words. This particular post is very fitting because I meet many people who tell me they eat and drink mindlessly and before they know it, they've polished off a whole pint of ice cream or drank 8 beers. These are wonderful tips to help you create some awareness around your feelings and address them, instead of escaping or numbing yourself with food and drink.

3 Ways Stop Eating Your Feelings

Have you ever felt so stuffed you couldn’t move? Had such a stressful day you went home and ate a box of cookies or bag of chips? Sometimes eating has very little to do with your actual hunger and is directly related to emotional triggers. Our emotions can have a powerful influence on our actions, especially eating.

Many people use food to self medicate. When my client Jenny walked in the door for the first time she felt out of control and would eat until she couldn’t move and was 60 lbs overweight. She followed these steps and after 6 months she felt her life change “ I cannot thank you enough for teaching me to learn to stop using food as a weapon. I have lost 35 lbs and I am happier then I have ever been. I stopped stressing about food and feel great.” –Jenny M.

These are the three most important ways to stop emotional eating:

Become aware of your true hunger signals.

Establish what emotions are driving you to eat.

Learn to stop punishing yourself every time you eat something you are trying to avoid.

Become aware of your true hunger signals

First, drink a glass of water before a meal, this will help you see if you are dehydrated and need to hydrate, or if it is true hunger that you’re feeling. I then teach my clients to track their eating by using “ the hunger scale”. This allows them to learn to only eat when they are truly hungry. They do not eat until they are so full they cannot move or get to the point where they are so hungry they want to eat everything in sight.

Become aware of exactly which emotions drive you to eating

Next, notice which emotions you experience at each meal, before and after you eat. Are you bored? Sad? Angry? Lonely? I teach my clients to learn which emotion they are feeling because often it is hard for them to be able to tell. When you try this, be honest with yourself without being hard on yourself. Remember, building self-awareness and self-esteem is the first step!

Learn to stop punishing yourself every time you eat something that you are trying to avoid.

Finally, try to be aware of the negative messages you send to yourself and make a commitment to no longer beat yourself up. The easiest way to start this challenging task is to spend a week writing down your negative thoughts about yourself. Throughout this process, you need to be patient and honest. Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that improving body image can enhance the effectiveness of weight loss programs based on diet and exercise. Positive self-talk is not only good for the soul; it’s also great for the waistline.

Each of these exercises should take no more then 5 minutes. They key is to write down exactly how you are feeling at the moment, without thinking about it or editing yourself. Remember, although food feels like your enemy at times, you have brought it into your life as a coping mechanism. It actually helped you to get to where you are today. Once you become aware of your actions, you will see how simple it is to break old patterns and free yourself from emotional eating.

Kim Murphy   •   September 20, 2012

This is a great post - thank you for sharing! I'm just in the middle of getting out of a nasty over-eating habit I've picked up after a recent stressful event. I've been trying to do this already, but it's nice to see the reminder to reinforce my new habits =)


Julia Hidy   •   September 24, 2012

Joy, I agree with Natalie, but would refine the timing of when to drink the glass of water before a meal. If the water is drunk too close to when you eat your food, the water will dilute your digestive juices and that's not great. If you can drink the water 30 to 45 minutes before your meal, then you'll know that it is real hunger or an addictive craving being triggered. Great post. Thanks!


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