Emotional Eating: How to Stop It Forever
BY: Natalia Macrynikola
My name is Natalia, and I am NOT an emotional eater ...
Thoughts raced in my mind as I picked up the phone. After a long day at the office, I still had one last item on my to-do list: “Call Bill Cashell, author of The Emotional Diet: How to Love Your Life More and Food Less, for an interview.”
... I eat fruits and veggies daily, jog and get plenty of sleep. In short, I play all my health cards right, and I feel pretty good ...
I started dialing. I was tired, but as always, I knew I could add just one more thing into my hectic day.
... especially at the thought of my secret reward: eating a few spoonfuls of decadent chocolate cake every night before bedtime.
Emotional Eaters: Who We Are and Why We Do It
As I talked to Cashell that night, chocolate cake always at the back of my mind, I saw no connection between me and emotional eating. Weren’t emotional eaters nervous wrecks or seriously obese? Not necessarily. “All human behavior is driven by one thing: A need to feel good,” said Cashell. For some, that means reading, knitting, calling a loved one; for others, it means eating chocolate cake.
That’s because “sugar and fat trigger dopamine in our brain and make us feel good fast,” explained Cashell. While fat and sugar can pack on pounds and give us heartburn, emotional eating presents yet another problem, he cautioned: Using food to deal with underlying issues keeps you from dealing with them at all.
5 Steps to Stop Emotional Eating
As I listened attentively, I couldn’t help but feel relieved I had no issues to cover up with food. And as if the fact wasn’t enough, Cashell shared more good news with me: If you do have a problem with emotional eating, it’s much easier to stop than you might think. All you have to do is break the association of food with comfort. “Great,” I thought. “I can’t wait to tell those who do need help.” Here’s how:
1. Interrupt your conditioned response.
When a craving strikes, shock yourself out of it. “Laugh, say something goofy, grab your nose and go ‘Honk, honk, honk,’” said Cashell. Anything out of the ordinary will interrupt the behavior pattern.
2. Notice how you feel.
Next, write down your craving, along with what you feel. Acknowledging the feeling instead of suppressing it with food helps you pinpoint the emotional need you need to fill, said Cashell.
3. Ask yourself how you can change, not why you can’t.
A question like “Why can’t I stop eating doughnuts?” comes with the belief that you can’t change. But a question like “How can I be healthy?” assumes you can. So stick to asking “how” questions to find solutions rather than “why” questions, which lead to defeatist answers.
4. Make a list of nonfood indulgences.
Consider what makes you feel fantastic, suggested Cashell. Reading? Dancing? Working? Write these activities down and use them when you need instant relief.
5. See yourself healthy.
“Your subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between real and imagined events,” said Cashell. So if you visualize yourself dealing with a situation in a healthier way over and over again, pretty soon, you’ll start responding that way in real life!
I found the last step especially fascinating, and I told Cashell I would try it myself if I ever needed to break a behavior pattern. Then I thanked him profusely, delighted at the idea that chocolate cake was just a few goodbyes away. That’s when, as if he read my mind, he asked me point-blank: “How do you feel right now?”
Don’t take away my chocolate cake! whimpered a voice at the back of my head. I was speechless.
Twenty minutes later, we hung up. Exhausted, I opened the fridge and looked at the cake. I wasn’t craving it anymore; instead, I was thinking about the day I had just described to Cashell: full of deadlines, tension and frustrations. “How can I feel less stress in my life?” I suddenly asked myself. Then, I closed the fridge, opened my journal and wrote.
Natalia Macrynikola is a group editor at Studio One Networks, which publishes Live Right Live Well.