Before we get into the emotional eating tips, do any of these sound like familiar things that have run through your mind?
“I’ve eaten two chocolate cookies, so I’ll just have one more tonight … *eats three cookies* … I’ve totally blown my day now so I may as well eat the rest of the packet and then it’s gone and I can start fresh tomorrow.”
“I’ve been perfect with my food all week so I deserve a cheat meal.” *turns into cheat WEEKEND*.
“I can’t eat that because it’s BAD.”
“Don’t eat the chocolate cake, don’t eat the chocolate cake, don’t eat the chocolate cake …” *eats half the chocolate cake*.
We’ve all been there, right?! Trying to silence those illogical thoughts about food, that sound totally cray-cray when you say them out loud! Turns out, it’s really not your fault that your mind can go a little nuts about food (pun intended).
How your body, mind and food cravings are all connected
Did you know that when you stress out, are busy and on the go-go-go – your adrenals cop a flogging. Your adrenals then pump a higher amount of cortisol into your body which can cause those sweet/salty cravings. Yikes, that’s a vicious cycle!
There is a strong connection between your physical health, emotional health and those darn food cravings that can wreak havoc on your physical health, emotional health … and you can see where that’s going! Back into that vicious cycle.
Stress will also affect your gut health via the brain gut axis (check out this, this and this to learn more about the brain gut axis – it’s fascinating!). Sayings like ‘butterflies in your tummy’ really start to make more sense when you understand how your emotions and mental thoughts link in with your eating habits.
We always hear that self-control and ‘willpower’ is the key to eating healthy, but honestly, doesn’t it just feel like your ‘willpower’ runs out by 2pm every day?
The psychology behind your ice-cream binges
Turns out that back in 1999, Professor Baba Shiv and his co-author Alex Fedorikhin conducted a very interesting experiment. They asked half of 165 grad students to memorise a seven-digit number and the other half a two-digit number. Simple, right?
After they memorised the numbers, the students were offered a snack choice of either chocolate cake or a fruit bowl, for participating in the experiment.
The students that had to remember the seven-digit number were nearly 50% more likely than the other group to choose chocolate cake over fruit.
The researchers discovered that willpower and cognitive processing essentially draw from the same pool of resources. Which means is that when you are tired, stressed out or just have a lot on your mind – your ‘willpower’ is running on low and you’re more likely to reach for that packet of cookies after dinner.
This works the other way around too as demonstrated in another experiment, this time with dogs. One group of dogs had to sit still for a few minutes before they were then allowed to play with their favorite “puzzle” toy that required them to figure out how to shake the treats out of it. The second group of dogs were allowed to just do whatever they wanted before being given the toy.
As you can expect, the dogs that had to sit i.e. exercise self-control and willpower; gave up trying to get those treats out of the toy much earlier than the doggies that were just chilling out before. The chilled out dogs were more determined to get those treats because they hadn’t tapped into their cognitive fuel tank, hence they had more energy for solving the puzzle.
With all that in mind, we’ve got some simple emotional eating tips to help you manage your food mood and stop those vicious emotional eating cycles.
5 Emotional Eating Tips to Manage your Food Mood
1. Recognise your TRIGGERS.
What makes you over-eat? Is it an emotional feeling? Particular events in your life? Certain environments? Time of day? Social events Start taking note so you can find your pattern and take steps to intervene. Go for a walk, wait 20 minutes, drink a glass of water or herbal tea, call a friend – do anything to break the pattern. We create habits by repeating actions and being rewarded for it, so understand that you can break those negative actions around food.
2. Stop thinking of foods as “good” or “bad”.
Food is just food, there are simply consequences attached to your choices around it. Restricting, forbidding and banning particular foods only leads to those cray-cray thoughts about it – and all that stress just draws upon your willpower resources! Focus on choosing foods that are nourishing for your body. Try setting yourself little goals on foods to eat, rather than foods to not eat – I’ll eat green veggies every day vs. I’ll never eat bread.
3. If you slip up – don’t beat yourself up over it!
It only reinforces the behaviour. So you ate a tub of ice cream, big deal – get over it, move on and eat something nourishing for your next meal. Your life and health is NOT ruined. You might feel a bit sick, bloated or just generally *blerghhh* from a sugar overload (that’s the consequence) but that’s it, you’re still alive! Everyone will slip up at some point guaranteed, so just accept that it happened and focus on getting back to nourishing your body. Don’t forget to note down what triggered the slip up (see #1).
4. Don’t eat “treat meals” when you’re under stress.
This feeds the emotional eating habit. Try to stick to healthy, nourishing meals that leave your body and mind feeling well. If you know that on Friday night you’re tired and stressed out from the work week and crave chocolate like there is no tomorrow – then dig in your heels and PLAN to save your chocolate treat for when you are in a good mood! Disassociate these types of food with stress. Try to vary the day and times when you have treats, so it doesn’t turn into a habit of dessert-every-night.
5. Eat mindfully.
Focus on being in the moment when you eat. Take a few deep breaths before you start eating and just be a bit thankful for your delicious meal! Allow yourself to notice the taste of the food, the textures and smell. Eat sitting down and JUST eat! Don’t work, or watch TV or multitask. Pop your fork/knife/spoon down between bites to consciously slow yourself down. Eat until you are almost full and then wait 10-20 minutes and ask yourself “Am I still hungry?”.
So stop beating yourself up and start being kinder to yourself! Focus on reducing your stress, take note of your triggers and just remember that your mind, body and those sneaky food cravings are all connected.
If you need a little help getting back on track, then check out the 24 day meal plan program (no calorie counting or depriving yourself!).