Big bowl of chocolate donuts

Ever reached out for a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, or a bowl of ice cream when you were feeling low?

Ever watched useless TV and binged ate because you were bored and didn't know what to do with your time?

Ever eaten something just so that you could stuff that emotional pit you were feeling in your chest?

Ever reached for alcohol to numb your anxiety so you could loosen up and fit in at a party?

From where I see it, we've all been there - either consciously or unconsciously. Some of us may stop with one chocolate/candy bar while others may have so many that eventually they start feeling sick.

Sadly, our body keeps a score. When we are young, our body suffers quietly, but as we grow older, it begins to give it back in the form of weight gain, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, bloating, migraines, clogged sinuses, etc.

So, how do you know if you have an emotional eating problem?

Just watch yourself and observe. The next time you feel stressed or sad, or are going through a crisis, see if you reach out to food to comfort yourself. If you do, try to observe a pattern, if any. Observe the kind of food you eat or beverage you drink, how much you eat (do you over eat?), and what emotion triggered this binge. If you see a pattern and find yourself binging or reaching out to a certain kind of food/beverage, chances are that you are eating your emotions.

What do your food/beverage choices during an emotional eating binge say?

Food and beverage choices say many things. They sometimes indicate deep-rooted emotional issues. For instance:

  • When you are unable to enjoy the sweetness of life, you may crave sweet foods to balance the act.

  • When you don't feel loved or nurtured, when you don't love yourself enough, you may crave dairy products (milk was the first thing you had when you came into this world and were comforted by your mother's loving arms - so it generates a very loving and comforting feeling within).

  • When you want to numb your senses from the pain and suffering in the world, you may reach out to alcohol or drugs.

  • When you want your space or are trying to protect yourself from the world, you may reach out to fatty foods (that pad you with fat) or salty foods (that pad you with water).

There's lots more, but this is just some food for thought. Hope it has set you thinking!

What's your emotional trigger?

Everyone has different triggers and it's important to identify it. For some, it may be fear of losing something or someone, for others it may be an issue of self-acceptance, for many it's yet another failure, for some it's just pure boredom. You may have grown up in a house where everyone's emotions were flying off the roof. So to escape all these emotions, you may have reached out to food. Chances are that every time your emotions or someone else's emotions are all over the place, you are going to reach out to food - lots of it. Grief, worry, depression, or anxiety can also trigger emotional eating. Identify your triggers. You may have one or you may have many.

What can you do about it?

Well... there's a lot that you can do.

  • Accept. Observe. Act. If you are going to live in denial that you don't have a problem, well then there's not much anyone can do for you. So, the first thing is to accept that there is a problem. Once you've done that, it becomes easier to work with yourself. Next, observe. Identify your triggers. You can do this by maintaining a food binge journal that lists the trigger and the kind of food/beverage you reached out to during your last few binges. Finally, act. Do something about it. It will require some hard-work from your side, but you will get there.

  • Break the cycle. The brain is a beautiful thing. Try to remember the first time you reached out to a food when you were sad. Try to remember few more instances after that. Well, what you were doing then was wiring your brain to reach out for food or a certain kind of food every time you felt this sadness. It became a habit and slowly turned into something unhealthy. So, it's time to rewire the brain to reach out for something different each time you feel that emotional trigger. Here's what can you do:

  • Try to replace an unhealthy food choice with crunchy vegetables, a bowl of soup/green juice, or a healthy fat.

  • Find creative ways to respond to the trigger. Go for a run. Paint. Do ten jumping jacks. Dance it off. Meet a friend. Listen to motivational music. Take a walk in the park. Do what works for you.

  • Try the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It's a tapping and affirmation technique that helps you with healing emotional wounds.

  • Meditate regularly. It helps you focus, practice mindfulness, heal emotional hurts, rewire the brain, make you more self-aware, and slowly help you make better choices in all spheres of life. I personally love the Buddhist Analytical meditations.

  • Ask yourself these questions to gauge if you are hungry or moving towards an emotional binge. The next time you feel anxious or low and see yourself reaching out for an unhealthy food choice, ask yourself:

  • Am I hungry or am I reaching out to this food to fill a vacuum I feel currently?

  • If I am hungry, will water suffice in this moment? If water will not suffice, can I reach out to a healthier food option right now, such as avocado on toast, nuts & seeds goo balls, or a warm cup of almond milk?

  • If I am feeling a vacuum, can I step out of the house and go for a walk in nature instead? Can I find something else to do at this time? Meditate maybe or do a quick body scan to relax the emotion I am feeling.

  • What am I feeling? Anger, anxiety, boredom, negative thoughts? All these emotions are rooted in some sort of deep rooted fear either of the future or of losing control. It could be a fear from some previous experience. Bring yourself to the present moment and see if you can let that fear go slowly.

  • Find a specialist. If none of these suggestions work, it may mean that your problem is a lot worse than you think it is. So, best thing to do is find a specialist who can help you with your emotional eating issues.

  • If you fail, try again. There will be many times that you will fail. But don't let that bring you down. The idea is to keep working on it till you are free!