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 dive face first into cheesecake and a (hard earned) balanced relationship with food so I don't feel guilty if I do.
The benefit of this was quite apparent as I came to the end of my week and realized I felt pretty great and ate mostly nutritious foods. Here's some of the lessons I learned and habits that were reinforced after my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.
1. Keep it out of the house. Environment is everything. A number of studies have shown one of the most effective and easiest ways to reduce your intake of junk food is by simply keeping it out of the house. If you have cookies, candy, and ice cream available, you will eat cookies, candy and ice cream, probably until they're all gone. Goodness knows I would have. That doesn't mean you can't ever enjoy these foods or purchase the occasional worth it splurge, but limit the amount that's easily available. I like to enjoy a daily sweet treat, so each week I plan a healthy treat along with our weekly menu. Here's a list of 15 of my favorites or check out my Tame Your Sweet Tooth Guide for 16 low sugar and no added sugar recipes!
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 a binge in it's place, 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. I woke up early, immediately got to work on the web issues and three hours later, I still hadn't eaten. I wasn't intentionally trying to skip breakfast, but whenever I thought about making a smoothie or the overnight oats I had on hand, it was completely unappealing. 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. 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.
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Hopefully this shows you how emotional eating can be a struggle, even for people who seemingly have it all together (at least on the food side, ha!). 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.
For those struggle with emotional eating, tell me a little about it in the comments below. Are their certain emotional triggers you struggle with the most? Certain foods you crave? Any strategies you've used to combat emotional eating?