1. Pay Attention
The first step to stop emotional eating is to get off autopilot. Take out a notebook and write down the following observations: what is the behavior you want to change? Do you skip meals, and then devour a whole pizza? Do you snack mindlessly all day? Or do you eat when you’re bored, sad, or angry? Record the exact behaviors that are troubling you so that you’re able to notice when you slip into these patterns.
For example, I’d been eating very well for several weeks, and then all of a sudden yesterday I went bananas and ate a pizza. What went wrong? I was rushing around and skipped lunch, and then I was starving at dinner time and I felt like I didn’t care what I ate. Now I can pay better attention to meal times and feelings of hunger, because I know it’s important to me when it comes to healthy eating.
Work with your tendencies rather than fighting them or yourself; this starts by paying attention to what your tendencies are.
2. Decide and Believe
That first step of cataloging the problem can feel discouraging, but the second step can help you get into the right mindset. It can actually be fun and rewarding to change our eating patterns.
The first step is to decide you’re going to change. A lot of times we are somehow served by our bad habits. Did I enjoy that pizza I ate yesterday? You bet I did! So it helps to acknowledge that we do actually get something good out of behaving badly. But at the same time, we can acknowledge why we want to change and believe that it’s possible.
To believe it’s possible, it helps to know that while you might make mistakes, you can get back on the right track in the very next moment. Believe that you can keep recommitting yourself for the long haul, and that you don’t need to give up. Believe in your ability to learn what works for you and to get better at it over time.
3. Breathe and Relax
Sometimes we don’t need food; we just need a fast way to chill out.
Stretch your arms over head, take a deep breath and relax. We can learn to access our breath everytime the going gets tough.
Another quick relaxation tip: massage your upper ear, a relaxation pressure point. A good way to calm down right away is to breathe deeply while you rub your upper ear. It’s weird, but it works.
Do you have any quick and easy ways of relaxing? Let me know in the comments.
As a writer, this one is my favorite, but you don’t need to be a professional writer (or even any good at it) in order to benefit from journaling. There’s something magically healing about writing down our problems on paper. Our minds can start seeing where perhaps we’re overreacting, or what we can do to solve problems rather than just stressing about them or complaining.
5. Gratitude Over Complaining
Honestly, things are never as bad as we think. How amazing it is to be alive on this planet at this moment. What an outrageous amount of abundance we all have. Yet many of us emotional eaters like to find things to complain about so that we can eat away our pain.
Just this week, I was complaining to myself as I was thinking about how I have to get up at 4AM to do the things that make me feel fulfilled, like noveling and blogging. What a drag. I was complaining to myself about how my Jawbone (a health tracking device I wear on my wrist) frightens me awake every morning when the alarm vibrates. I don’t like being jolted out of bed! It stresses me out.
But guess what? When my mom was raising me, she didn’t have the luxury of getting up early to write books and to blog. The internet didn’t even exist yet. If she wanted to write books, she would have had to clack away on a typewriter. There was no such thing as self-publishing, so good luck with getting a book out into the world. And she didn’t have a device that would quietly wake her up while the rest of the house slept so she could have time to herself.
Once I stopped my bitching over stupid things, my next step was to order rechargeable batteries for a clock I have that will wake me up by glowing. I can be grateful that, not only do I have all these options for spending my time, I have options of how I want to be awakened in the morning that won’t wake my family! Unbelievable!
What are you complaining about that, just 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, would be a ridiculous thing to complain about? Let’s appreciate how far our living conditions have come, and so quickly.
6. Excuse Neutralizers
When we overeat, or try to eat our emotions away, we usually come up with an excuse for eating that way. We think, “I’m going to eat this because…”
I had a hard day.
That guy makes me so angry!
I deserve it.
I worked out this morning.
I skipped my last meal.
I’ve been good, so it’s okay if I’m bad this one time.
I don’t care.
And on and on. Studies have shown that when we talk ourselves into something, we use the word “because” and it gives us mental permission to do it. Notice when you’re justifying bad eating habits, and write down the excuses you’re using.
Go ahead and write down as many as you can think of right now, even when you’re not emotional eating, because when you’re not in the heat of the moment (face to face with the chocolate cake), it helps to figure out these loopholes you’ve given yourself.
Decide what you’re going to tell yourself the next time you try to make up an excuse to give in. You might remind yourself of your goals or why you want to get healthy in the first place, and you might pick an alternative behavior like drinking a tea or a glass of lemon water.
7. Solve Problems
Once you start seeing your Excuse Neutralizers in action, you might notice a problem that crops up more commonly than others that’s causing you to overeat.
For me lately, I’ve noticed that when I let myself get too hungry, I’m way more likely to do something crazy (like eat a whole pizza!) I’ve solved that problem is by setting a timer so that within three or four hours of eating, I’m thinking about next meal. That way I don’t let too much time go by and I won’t ignore those early hunger pangs.
The problems you see might be relationship issues, like a coworker who consistently does something to drive you nuts, or someone in your family that’s annoying you. Of course the best thing to do is to have a friendly conversation, but remember that you can’t change others.
If someone doesn’t correct the problem after you’ve brought it to their attention, then rather than blowing up in anger over their disrespect of your wishes, it’s time to think about how you can control and change your own reaction to and perception of the issue.
As Oprah says, Stay in Your Own Lane. This means you can’t change others, only yourself.
8. Control Your Media Consumption
As someone who has worked in media for most of their career, I can tell you that the news is bullshit. It’s pure entertainment (at best). The media is simply a business model: bring in eyeballs = make advertising dollars.
The best way to bring in eyeballs? Sensationalist crap. Let’s pit the Democrats against the Republicans and vice versa. Let’s report on every scary, horrible thing that ever happens, and let’s make it sound like it’s going to affect each person individually who watches or reads the news.
You know what? I haven’t watched the news in years. Nothing bad happened. I got those hours and days of my life back that I would have spent consuming that garbage. And I got those hours / days / years of my life back that I would have spent being fearful / sad / indignant about all the garbage they talk about on the news.
If you’re an emotional eater, then for the love of God, don’t watch the news or you’re going to be eating over things that aren’t even relevant or true!
If the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m sure I’ll hear about it before a zombie bites me. But I won’t learn about it from the news.
9. Walk in Nature
Find a physical outlet for your emotions. My husband likes beating a heavy bag. Not my thing. But you gotta figure out what works for you.
There’s something about walking in nature that calms the nerves. Did you know that there are now therapists out there that that basically tell people to play outside? It’s called ecotherapy. This video from The Atlantic about Nature Deficit Disorder is pretty hilarious and to the point if you’ve got 5 minutes and 30 seconds to spare.
Here’s a personal anecdote and how nature walks have impacted my weight. I used to walk outside in the woods every day. Then winter hit, and when the temps dropped into the single digits and the woods became blanketed in snow, I couldn’t hack it. I stayed inside for much of the winter and I gained 10 pounds!
Now that it’s warming up again here, I’m back to my daily nature walks. Sure it’s great for the body, but the real benefit I’m seeing, and very quickly, is a more relaxed and happy attitude. Nature: it might be what’s missing from your own formula for living a blissful life and combatting emotional eating.
10. Stop Worrying About What Other People Think to Improve Your Life
I think a trait common among those of us who struggle with emotional eating:
We worry about what other people think.
“Because I said so” was a really great way to parent way back when. Parenting trends are changing. We are now told that it matters what our kids think and how they feel. But not so much back in the 70s. Back then it was important to raise a kid who was compliant and who could follow the rules.
And so many of us are rule followers. Which is great. Sometimes it’s a helpful trait to be able to color inside the lines, so to speak.
But the world is changing in other ways too: I was told to get a good job and keep my head down and work hard and I would be rewarded. Because that’s how things worked in my mom and dad’s generation. But these days, you can do all that and still lose your job. That’s what happened to me.
And so now I work and I do a good job, but I also do what’s right for me. You’ve gotta Choose Yourself!, as James Altucher wrote about in his book. So now I write books. I blog. You might be afraid of what other people think of you—and this is something I had to get over so that I could get my work out there.
You have to figure out what you can do to improve your life. If you didn’t care what other people think, what would you do? How would you express yourself? What would you create? It might not be conventional, it might not be what good girls and boys do. But it must be done in order to live a blissful life.
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