If you're feeling tired, stressed, bored and sad, it's hard not to turn to food for comfort. Here's four lessons on emotional eating I learned from a particularly stressful week.
If you somehow missed by 4,763 frustrated tweets and instagram posts, then let me fill you in. Last week stunk. Technological difficulties in getting our ebook launched, a virus that knocked out my computer and website for 48 hours, and getting ready for a weekend out of town added stress to an already full week.
When I'm stressed, I crave everything sweet. Not an apple or a square of dark chocolate sweet. Like, a giant hunk or two of gooey blondie drenched in chocolate ganache kind of sweet. Or a double scoop of cookies and cream in a chocolate sprinkle cone sweet.
Oh, and cheese, lots and lots of cheese.
Yes, that's right. I do not posses superhuman willpower or taste buds that do not recognize the amazingness of chocolate cake or brain cells that don't light up when sugar hits my tongue.
What I do have though, are engrained habits that make it harder for me to impulsively dive face first into cheesecake and a (hard earned) balanced relationship with food so I don't feel guilty if I do.
Here's some lessons on emotional eating I learned or were reinforced during my junky week:
1. Be mindful of your environment. I don’t think it’s useful to completely keep foods you emotionally eat out of the house. That just reinforces the idea that it’s off-limits, and creates forbidden fruit. But it might make sense to change your environment so that trigger foods aren’t so easily accessible. Maybe having just a couple types of sweets available rather than 15 different ones, or having them placed in an area that you don’t immediately see them.
2. Delay. When a craving sets in, instead of telling yourself no or immediately indulging, tell yourself you can have unlimited amounts in the future, then delay. In one study, participants were provided with candy after being asked to imagine they can't ever eat it, imagining they can have as much as they want later on, or being told they could eat unlimited amounts. Those who were told to delay ate significantly less. I experienced this firsthand last week when I was having a major chocolate craving. We had one bar of Fireworks dark chocolate from Trader Joes (ah-maze by the way) and my immediate desire was to eat the whole thing. Instead, I postponed, telling myself I can have as much as I like in the future, just not now. When I did finally indulge, I felt truly satisfied with a couple squares.
3. It's never too late to eat mindfully. I try to eat mindfully as much as possible, but I'm no Buddhist monk. One night, I found myself going to town town on a bag of lentil chips, barely tasting the chips as I ate. After my second handful, I noticed and slowed down. After a few more bites, I realized I wasn't hungry or craving chips in the first place, I just wanted a distraction. People often approach mindful eating with an all or nothing mindset, either setting out with intentions to eat mindfully or not at all. But it's never to late to stop, reconnect with your food and savor it mindfully.
4. Sometimes food really does make you feel better. Thursday morning, all I wanted was a bagel sandwich with smoked salmon and cream cheese. So, I went out to Einsteins and got an everything bagel sandwich with smoked salmon and extra cream cheese. It was bliss. And guess what? As I took the last bite, I got a message from IT support saying they found a solution to my web issues. Coincidence??? Probably..but it felt pretty great while I was enjoying it. In thinking about it, I think the key for successfully emotional eating (never thought I'd say that!) was that I identified a specific food that I really and truly wanted, didn't indulge immediately and savored it mindfully when I did. Most of all, it was because I didn't feel a single speck of guilt.
Hopefully this shows you that emotional eating isn’t something to be so scared of. Looking at the clients I work with, emotional eating is their greatest struggle. It's difficult to separate food from emotion, and impossible to do entirely. But by building healthy habits, you can start to have a relationship with food where it isn't your crutch.