5 Tips For Dealing With Comfort Eating (inc. 1 video)
1. Distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger
When you are about to eat ask yourself ‘how physically hungry am I right now?’ This will require you getting to know what your hunger and fullness feels like. Physical hunger is normally located in the stomach, whereas emotional hunger can be located in the mouth with cravings for specific types of food. Physical hunger normally comes on gradually, whereas emotional hunger can appear suddenly as the result of an external or internal trigger. Physical hunger means that you stop eating when you are full, whereas emotional hunger can mean that you keep eating until you are way passed fullness as your aim is to deal with emotions… which food is not so good at.
Before eating, try rating your hunger and fullness on a scale from 1 to 10; 1= very hungry and 10= very full. Anything above a 5 or 6 and you are probably not physically hungry at all. By doing this you will be better equipped to decrease bouts of feeding emotional hunger with food.
2. Familiarise yourself with your emotions
a. Give your emotions a name
In order to deal with the emotions that lead to emotional eating you’ve got to get to know them first. This means recognising an emotion and naming it for what it is. When your craving kicks in rate your hunger/fullness. If it’s as high as a 5 or 6 then your emotional eating bell should ring. Stop and see what emotions are around for you. You can do this by closing your eyes, breathing calmly and slowly and scanning your body for emotion. Is that stress on your shoulders? Sadness in your heart? Anxiety in your tummy? Once you know what it is it will be easier to start learning how to deal with it without using food.
Once you know what it is and where it is, you next need to learn to sit with it and not try to push it away but give it the space it needs. One way to do this is to become inquisitive about the emotion you are experiencing. Let’s say you have experienced anxiety in you tummy. Close your eyes and imagine what it looks like. Are there butterflies flitting about in there? Is there a grey storm cloud hovering inside? Now imagine the object that represents your emotion out in front of you. Look at its form, its size, its colour. See that it can’t hurt you. When you have become familiar with it, put it back where you found it, knowing it is there and though it may be uncomfortable, it is doing you no harm.
b. Understand your emotions
So maybe it doesn’t feel great to have the emotion but accepting its presence doesn’t mean you have to like it. By accepting it you are accepting that this is your internal experience right now rather than rejecting it, ignoring it or judging yourself for it. By saying ‘I feel EMOTION right now because…’ will help you to understand the triggers to certain emotions for you. For example ‘I’m feeling sad right now because I was not understood’. ‘I’m feeling angry right now because I believe I was treated unfairly.’
c. Deal with your emotions in an appropriate way (Treat yourself)
Once you have recognised the triggers you can then think of ways in which you can deal with the situations that have lead to the emotions that would normally result in comfort eating. How you deal with your emotions will depend on the emotion and its trigger. Perhaps your anger would be resolved by speaking to the person you feel has treated you unfairly and expressing how you are feeling and why you are feeling it. If someone else was dealing with this emotion what would you do for them? Give them a hug? Maybe that’s what you need too! Do something nice for yourself. Have a bath, book a massage, turn your mobile phone off and have some me time. Do whatever feeds the emotional hunger without responding with food.
3. Use Post-its
Placing post-it notes in the draw at work where you keep food or on the fridge at home can help you to keep a check on your reason for turning to food before it happens. Write questions such as ‘Am I physically hungry?’ ‘Did something just happen that is making me sad/angry/anxious?’ If you are aware that you are about to respond to emotional hunger then you can change your behaviour by having a glass of water, standing and walking to get some fresh air, speak to someone about what just happened or by writing how you are feeling. Writing either just a sentence or in a journal format can be great way to express the emotions you are feeling so they are not bottled up inside eating away at you and causing you to start eating.
4. Run a quick Cost-benefit analysis
When you are about to reach for the snacks do a quick cost-benefit analysis in your head. What are your short term gains and losses from indulging right now and what are your long term gains and losses. Though something might seem right here and now, when we look to the future consequences of our actions it may stop us following through on an urge.
5. Seek professional help
Sometimes it is useful to work alongside someone such as a therapist to understand and engage with the triggers and thoughts that lead to your emotional eating. There is nothing shameful about this. If you need work on your teeth you seek a dentist, if you need work on your car you seek a mechanic. If you are aware that your emotional world is one you find hard to manage alone, then it makes sense to seek help with it.