How to stop emotional eating
Another diet is not how to lose weight in January 2021!
If you’re sick of diets, want to lose weight and get fitter in 2021, but can’t make yourself stop emotional eating, this article is for you.
It’s thought that the relentless cycle of binge-eating and dieting makes you put on more weight. The body gets triggered into storing weight when there is a threat of starvation. So, what you really need to lose weight in 2021, is to treat the cause rather than the symptom. You need to understand what causes your eating, and learn how to manage it.
Here I’ll offer you three ways to start your year more healthily than you’ve ever started a year before. If you continue the year in this way; this could be your best year yet, and you will certainly lose weight naturally in 2021, as you gradually stop emotional eating.
Are you an emotional eater?
First, you need to understand what’s making you eat the way you do. A large part of this will of course be brainwashing and habit by now. But there is often something uncomfortable behind overeating. Usually, overeating is a response to a feeling that you don’t know what else to do with, or that you are afraid to feel. You may not know about this because you eat before you can discover how you feel.
How to find out, so you can stop emotional eating
So, here are some questions to help you start to understand whether you are comfort eating to soothe or avoid how you feel.
When do you overeat?
- When you finish work?
- Is it late at night?
- When you’re bored?
- Is it when you’re alone?
- Is it when you visit a certain relative?
Think of a recent time when you ate more than you wanted to.
- What was happening just before?
- What were you thinking?
- How were you feeling?
- Were you thinking thoughts like this:
“I’ll be fat anyway”
“I don’t care, I don’t care about myself”
“I deserve this treat”
Having answered these questions, can you see that it’s possible that your eating might be in response to some emotion?
In this British stiff upper lip culture, we are not particularly amazing at knowing what to do with our feelings. So, we’re eating. My aim is to get you used to starting to think about what you’re actually doing, and why. Because this is the key to change.
2. Understand how you’re brainwashing yourself
Start noticing what things you tell yourself, that you now believe and don’t question, but that might not be accurate.
Examples of the brainwashing involved in comfort eating
- “I’ll let myself go now (at Christmas), I can start again in January” or “I might as well eat this now as it’s here, then tomorrow I won’t buy any more. Diet starts tomorrow!”
- “If I don’t give in to the urge, I’ll just think about it all the time until I give in”
- “I need this”
All of these are the ways you tell yourself that it’s OK to carry on comfort eating, and staying in your comfort zone.
Here’s the real truth
- You won’t be able to be any different tomorrow or in January, because you won’t have addressed the cause of your eating, and how to manage that. The effect on your health is also more of a waste than dumping half a cake. Here’s where you’ll begin being sick of diets!
- How would you know? How long have you tried that for, without being on a diet or starving yourself? But even if it does stay with you (and this is where the real gold is) “So what?” What’s the worst that could happen? This is where you really start to understand that it’s discomfort that causes you to eat. That experience definitely won’t kill you. It’s a starting point for discovery. You also need to be aware that as soon as you have certain foods like sugar and fat you will immediately crave more. They’re addictive in their chemistry. The people who make them know that. But, the physical craving will subside fairly quickly. It’s the emotional or psychological craving that is more complicated.
- You don’t need this addictive, dangerous substance. You are choosing to eat it because you don’t know how else to soothe how you feel, or aren’t taking the time to allow any other solution. The food doesn’t help you in the end. It won’t take away the feeling you have behind it for long, or fix the real problem.
3. Learn new ways to manage discomfort so that you can stop emotional eating in 2021
Now that you understand that your eating might be caused by feelings and false beliefs, you need an alternative to junk food or overeating, as a way to manage how you feel and what you think.
Meditation, mindfulness, and visualisation help you to get into a different state of mind. With the mania of craving food, and with the feelings behind the desire, this is often what’s needed.
It’s easy to find these kinds of guided techniques for free online. If you’re not sure where to start, a favourite of mine is Kristin Neff on self-compassion.
What these techniques do is they get you into a certain part of your brain that is a rational, reasonable, compassionate adult. It’s literally a different part of your brain to the feeling or instinctual part. It’s the part of you that can look after you, stand up for you, and make good choices for your wellbeing. Self-soothing also calms your physiological system down.
The comfort eater is often eating in response to an inner critic (“I’m so fat”, “I don’t matter anyway”, “I never get it right”, “Nobody listens to me”, “Shut up, you stupid cow!“) So, you need to develop an inner nurturer, who really likes you.
What about trying to understand the reasons that you feel or act the way you do?
Understand your feelings, and find ways to address what you need
Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to go deeper to find out how we’re feeling and what we need.
Ultimately, stopping comfort eating is about gradually becoming more engaged in-the-moment and learning to stop punishing yourself. Gradually, bit by bit, you need to catch the self-harm and replace it with what you really need, and with love. Naturally, this helps you to drop the obsession with food for an interest in your life.
It takes time to learn how to trust your feelings, particularly if, as is often the case, some kind of trauma caused you to block them off in the first place. This is something you may need professional help with. Identifying and managing feelings can be really challenging for the emotional eater. So, it’s important to acknowledge that this grows and develops gradually.
Summary of how to stop emotional eating in 2021
What I’m suggesting you do, is start understanding what your discomfort is, explore and challenge your automatic thoughts, and find other ways to manage the discomfort and brainwashing.
To be able to stop overeating, or to stop the endless cycle of dieting and binge-eating, you need to understand what’s going on for you. You need to find a place of compassion for that. From a place of genuine self-respect, and with education on how to manage feelings differently, it is possible to choose not to overeat, and to lose weight in 2021, without starving yourself.
Want to go further and stop emotional eating?
Shelley Treacher is a BACP accredited body centred psychotherapist, with a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from CIIS. She is also a certified specialist in binge & overeating recovery (with Julia Buckroyd Emeritus Professor). As well as a certified coach, specialising in co-dependency & moving on from tough dating and relationship experiences (with Katherine Woodward Thomas. NY Times bestselling author).
Shelley has been published in the Counselling Directory, produces the fortnightly podcast ‘Overeating and Binge-Eating Recovery’, weekly ‘Therapy cat’ videos, and has written several articles about binge-eating and loneliness. Shelley’s upcoming workbook is about how to overcome comfort eating. She runs several groups a year with people from all over the world. She supports people through the process of understanding and reducing binge-eating, and in overcoming loneliness, whether in relationship or single.