AM I GOING TO EAT OVER THIS?
Guidelines to Avert an Emotional Eating Episode
I was so pissed off! How dare they? My two best friends couldn’t make my birthday party. Why weren’t they coming? Didn’t they love me? Wasn’t I cool enough?
I was angry and I was eating, chomping away as I processed my hurt. I came to as I reached the bottom of the icing bowl. Without realizing it, I had just demolished all of the chocolate frosting just hours before my birthday party.Now on top of angry, I felt sick and sad.
My friends hadn’t ruined my birthday, I had, with my response to finding out they couldn’t come.
WHY DO WE EAT WHEN WE ARE EMOTIONAL?
Have you ever been in a situation when something in life happened and you just ate over it because that just seemed like the thing to do at the time? The only response that your brain would allow you do?
Emotion, Stress, and The Brain
Our mind and body evolved to move from 0-100 milliseconds to get us out of danger as fast as possible. This fight-or-flight response enhanced survival back in the day. When fear or danger happens today, that same amazing survival mechanism occurs. The hormone cortisol floods the system, and the reptilian brain literally shuts down the conscious, rational-thinking brain. It says “Hey, there’s no time to think –JUST MOVE THOSE FEET!” Almost instantly, every bit of energy goes to preparing us to flee as fast as possible.
The problem is that the reptilian brain does not know how to differentiate between a lion and bumper-to-bumper traffic, the yelling boss, or friends not coming to your birthday party. The mind interprets any change in “normal” as a threat, triggering release of cortisol to prep the body for a lightning-fast get-away.
Stress also shifts the brain into a reward-seeking state, because it associates the reward state to “feeling better.” Eating may be a calming reward, but eventually it also makes us feel bad about ourselves. I know because I did it for years myself and it never helped and only made things worse. When I finally overcame the habits and behaviors that allowed me to release 40 pounds and keep it off for twenty years, learning to avoid emotional eating was one of the key changes that helped me create lasting change.
In my work with clients, I help them understand that when they feel angry, sad, anxious or even really happy, they cannot use willpower to avoid the desire to eat for comfort because during emotional surges, the impulse control part of the mind is not available to us—it is literally shut down!
3-STEP SELF-COACHING TO SIDE TRACK AN EMOTIONAL EATING EPISODE
A strategy I teach my clients to avoid comfort-eating teaches them to stop the automatic response and calm themselves down, sort of as you would a small child coming to you in distress. You can develop the ability to be your own Inner Coach calming your Inner small child who needs comforting.
Here is the 3 step process to calm yourself and move through any emotional episode while staying connected to you what you really want.
1. Notice your feelings and acknowledge them, “I am hurt! Those Bit%3s aren’t coming to my party.”
2. Allow the feeling and say—“it’s okay to feel the feeling that I am mad at my friends”. So often, we try to push away uncomfortable feelings—if you allow them in and label the feelings, you begin to have power over them versus them having power over you.3. Ask yourself the question “Am I going to eat over this? Because if I am, I had better come up with another solution.” This allows your stressed and emotional brain a big pause, a real self care moment and a chance to shift gears from the thought of eating to the thought of truly taking care of ourselves. If we eat to numb, we not only add unneeded calories to our bodies but we lose the chance to find something that will truly take care of us. Using food as a ban-aid doesn’t take care of us it leaves us feeling worse than before.
If the answer is yes–then try one of these 3 more slimming alternatives:
a. Forgive Whomever Wronged You (even if it was you who wronged you.) Resentment is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die. My two friends were off living their lives oblivious to the fact that I shoveled 2000 calories worth of icing down my throat. To forgive is divine and it’s damn slimming too. Do what I call an “Insta-Forgive”. Don’t forgive them for them, forgive them for you—just let it go. If you need to take an action later, like speak with the person, you can do that too, but ‘insta-forgive’ them upfront so they don’t cause you both anger and an additional pound of wiggle in the back.
b. Rest In Peace Often when we are feeling extreme emotions that would cause us to eat, we are tired and our brain is overwhelmed. Sometimes, just a quick 10 minute lie down is just what you need to pull yourself out of fight or flight eating mode and into thinking more rationally about how to really deal with an issue. if you can get some zzzzs all the better. Research shows we need many respites through the day but our fast-paced culture breeds it out of us. Try to give yourself the love of a good nap. Scarlett O’Hara said “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” We say, “I’ll think about it after my nap.”
c. Get Some Coaching From a Friend Calling someone or reaching out to process your feelings is a great way to connect with people. People love to help—so take advantage. Let someone contribute to you! Chances are your friend has been through what you are experiencing or can just hear you out and let you process what happened. Sometimes, it helps to ask specifically for what you need, like—“I need your opinion, what would you do?” or “I don’t need your opinion, but I would love for you to hear me and let me process. Is that okay?”
This tool has been one of the best ways I’ve used to grow my ability to break out of emotional eating situations. It has also helped many clients gain confidence in their ability to handle their emotions without eating over them.
I hope you will try this powerful tool out soon, although I hope it isn’t because your friends don’t show up to your birthday!