Saturday, March 26, 2016

Are you an Emotional Eater?

Last night, we went on a nice double date with some friends. We ate, we chatted, and then my husband suggested getting something sweet. DQ here we come! I still felt fairly full, and I have been trying to avoid sugar, so I got a mini blizzard. I ate it slowly while we all talked. I am fairly certain it was the first time I hadn't finished a blizzard, let alone a mini! SCORE!

And then we came home. My daughter fought me on going to bed. My house was a mess. I started to clean once she was finally asleep, and then decided to save it for the morning and get back to my Grey's Anatomy (my newest addiction). All of a sudden, I felt hungry. I needed something salty. I wanted movie popcorn, chips, whatever. It didn't even matter WHAT I ate, as long as I was eating. I dug through the cupboards, and couldn't find anything that sounded good. Then, I thought about something sweet, and considered the candy I had set aside for my primary class I'm teaching on Sunday. At that point, I stopped myself, and realized I had hit an all time low. Stealing candy from kids!? I mean, I'm not above that, I've totally eaten my kids' candy. But other kids' candy? That's too far. I was able to stop and see that this was very much emotional eating.

Usually, I know it's emotional eating, but in the moment I don't really care. I just have to get that "fix." But last night, I didn't even realize until I considered eating those kids' little baggies of candy. I probably could have eaten them all! I also realized that I wasn't really THAT upset, it was just that my daughter, in a matter of seconds before tucking her in, had managed to push the right buttons. A trigger. So unless I'm just ultra messed up, surely there are other women, moms, dads, college students, 13 year olds, other people out there like me.

How do you know if you're an emotional eater? I've made a list of things I've noticed in myself as indicators:

1. You cannot watch television, drive, work, watch a sport, etc. without having something to munch on.

When the TV is on, you'll find something to munch on. It's mindless eating, but a little more than that. For me, it's mindless eating any time I'm bored or have the hands to eat. You have an emotional attachment to eating during these times.

2. A few minutes ago you were full, now you could eat a whole cake.

You've just had dinner, but all of a sudden you are ravenous and you will eat whatever is close by. Actual hunger comes on slowly as it takes longer to process and digest the healthy stuff, so unless you had sugary cereal for dinner, you shouldn't really be hungry.

3. You ate a LOT of food in a very short amount of time.

Where'd all the food go? Could I have really eaten all of that by myself? This happens to me. I'll admit it shamefully. You just mindlessly eat a lot more than you planned on eating.

4. You can tell you're full, but you keep on keeping on. 

The biggest lie I tell myself is that I've already bought this ice cream, I need to finish it tonight or I'll screw up my diet tomorrow. I'm stuffed and might puke, but I just gotta keep on eating. Or these nachos are so good, I just want a few more.

5. Food is a reward. 

You've just got the kids to bed, hallelujah! You deserve something delicious. You just lost 5 pounds, here have a juicy double cheeseburger. You got a raise? Here's some cake! You get the point. Food isn't a reward. It should be fuel. No judgement here, I've rewarded myself for cutting my toe nails.

6. Food is a source of happiness.

You had an extremely hard day, and the only thing that will make you feel better is indulging. A lot. In foods high in fat or sugar, or both. When I lost my brother, I ate a lot of candy telling myself it was his favorite, or I used to eat it with him so it made me feel close to him. In all reality, I just wanted that hole to be filled. Food can't do that. And when we do this, usually we over eat because we are looking to feel better.

7. Triggers

I've noticed there are certain triggers that I personally have. The weekends. If we've given ourselves permission to over eat and eat what we want on the weekends, when the weekend rolls around it's time to eat. Holidays. Your kids. As I stated earlier, my kids are definitely a trigger at times. Spouses. It's not necessarily them but maybe something they say to you or their tone at times that could trigger emotional eating. Someone at work. Depression. I know when I'm on a low, I will eat more.

8. You would rather stay home and binge in secret than hang out with family or friends. 

Hey, I've been there. I don't like eating in front of people because I never know when I'm just going to stop paying attention and eat the whole table. I'm also an introvert, so I'd rather just stay home. So staying home and shoving food in my face seems a lot better than hanging out with you, no offense. I've also made plans with myself to go home, get in my pjs, put on the Netflix, and eat everything in sight. This is fun for me. This isn't healthy. 

Now that you've realized you too have an issue with emotional eating, what can you do to break yourself free from this destructive behavior? 

{First, my condolences. Also, I want to remind you if you didn't already know, that I am not a professional. I am not a food therapist. I just have experience of my own with emotional eating.}

1. Become more mindful of your eating. 

Are you really hungry? How long ago did you eat? If you are eating well balanced meals, your body won't get suddenly hungry. Sudden hunger is usually cravings. If you've eaten awhile ago, that could be real hunger. Something that really helps me is a food journal. I write down when I eat, what I eat, and if at all possible, how much I eat. I also record how I feel. If something makes me feel more sluggish, I want to avoid that. If something doesn't keep me full for very long (usually something sugary or lacking nutrient density) I don't want to eat it. 

2. Slow down and enjoy your food

Food is meant to be enjoyed. Savor each bite. Take smaller bites, and chew your food longer. We can also avoid over eating if we slow down our eating and recognize how much we are eating and feel when we are full. Some foods actually start to breakdown in your mouth and need to be chewed longer so that our bodies can digest them properly. 

3. Identify your triggers

Are specific foods your triggers? For example, can you not control yourself around popcorn? Or maybe certain people trigger your emotional eating. Thanksgiving is a terrible time for you because that's when you lost your dog, so you tend to be depressed and eat. Once you've identified what sets off the emotional eating, get down to the bottom of why and find a healthy way to combat those urges.

4. Replace the bad habits with good

Any time you are removing a bad habit, you have to add in a good habit. Otherwise, you'll go back to the old habit. If you have to distract yourself from eating while you watch TV, start doing small workouts. If you're emotional eating is after you've fought your kids to go to bed for an hour, replace that eating with a craft, cleaning or something you love to do.

5. Focus on what the food you eat is doing for you.

This is one that helps me a lot. I have Celiac Disease, so if I focus on what gluten does to my body, it helps me avoid it. If I focus on the nutrients food will give me, I will do better at eating better, more nutrient dense food. You can still over eat the healthy stuff, so it's important to be mindfully eating. Know the correct portions, how much of what foods you need in a day, and what foods make you feel the best.

If you aren't sure how much you should be eating, I know of a great program that has helped me. Being a part of a challenge group has helped me become more accountable for what I'm eating. The portion control system is simple and effective. If you'd like my help, click here.

And if all else fails, get food therapy or seek out a nutritionist. There is nothing wrong with getting help!

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