Had a bad day at work? Maybe you come home and drown your frustrations in fudge. Fight with your significant other? Maybe you deal with it by eating several hefty bowls of pasta. Maybe you don’t want to feel the hurt, pain or embarrassment of a certain situation, so you numb yourself with every scoop of ice cream you dole out, with every squishy bite of cereal with milk.
Whatever “comfort food” you choose – macaroni and cheese, ice cream, cake – emotional eating, for many of us, is a common occurrence. But while emotional eating may be OK sometimes (having dessert because you’re happy and celebrating a special occasion or eating your mom’s lasagna because it’s comforting and brings back childhood memories), it isn’t healthy on a regular basis.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
While reading 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers, Psy.D, I came across an excellent idea for overcoming emotional eating. Albers suggests creating an inspiration box with the techniques from her book. This way, when you want to turn to food for comfort, you can, instead, turn to your inspiration box, which will be filled with valuable self-soothing substitutes. You can reach into your box and try out a few techniques.
Here’s how she suggests creating your inspiration box:
– When you’re feeling good (avoid doing this when you have the urge to eat), find an empty tissue box or any kind of box or jar.
– Gather sheets of paper, and cut the paper into squares.
– On each square, write down the name of a technique that you think will be helpful.
– Fold the squares and drop them into the box.
50 Ways is incredibly helpful and gives you great ideas. But if you can’t get it right now, consider what things help you self-soothe that don’t include food.
What do you love to do? What are your fave hobbies? What alleviates your anxiety? What almost always puts you in a great mood?
For instance, if I were making my own inspiration box, I’d write down the below on my scraps of paper:
- Watching re-runs of Golden Girls (this is seriously one of the best shows ever!), What Not to Wear or Fringe.
- Calling a friend to catch up and vent. Whatever I’m feeling, I have several close friends I can call who are always there to listen and offer advice, if I need it.
- Shopping with mom. We usually make a day of it at an outdoor mall and grab dinner afterward. We enjoy getting out of the house and we love spending time together (and the shopping part isn’t bad either :)).
- Reading a great book. You can pick up a book that makes you laugh, a book on body image or eating that inspires you, an old favorite that always makes you feel better.
- Reading others’ stories. Just knowing you aren’t alone and that others have been there and have gotten better is tremendously comforting. I love re-reading the Q&As on Weightless because the women who’ve shared their stories truly inspire and motivate me. I also read many awesome body image and eating disorder blogs every day. Reading through their touching posts may help you, too. A few faves (though I have many!): Healthy Girl, ED Bites, Beautiful You , Are You “Eating With Your Anorexic?”, Finding Melissa, Radical Hateloss.
- Going to see a funny movie. Laughter is great medicine.
- Getting tickets for a musical. I absolutely love musicals! I have ever since I went to see Guys and Dolls with my middle-school chorus class. Whether it’s looking for a musical to attend, buying the tickets or seeing a production, my mood is instantly brightened. This also reminds me of listening to music. Do you have certain songs that evoke feelings of relaxation, calm, happiness, good thoughts? Turn on those songs, find a comfy place to sit down and close your eyes.
- Taking a yoga or Pilates class at my gym. If I’m stressed or just feel out of it, these classes put me back in tune with my body. Before each class, I usually do 10 to 20 minutes on the elliptical. I feel like my anxiety, stress, sadness melts away – even if it’s just a little bit. I always come out of the gym feeling better. I’m also a huge fan of workout DVDs. So if I don’t feel like going to the gym, I can do a DVD.
- Taking a deep breath. For many of us, anxiety triggers emotional eating, and taking a few breaths can feeling soothing.
- Stopping and assessing. If I have a big urge to eat, I’d stop and try to assess how I’m feeling. I love the acronym HALT for helping you better understand why you want to eat – and fast: Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Sometimes, you’re genuinely famished; other times, you may be angry or exhausted. Ask yourself: Am I truly hungry for food or hungry for stress relief and peace?
- Writing in my journal. Unfortunately, I don’t do this enough, but when I do, it can feel incredibly cathartic. I haven’t written much about my dad passing. That’s mostly because right now it’s just too hard. If you aren’t ready to process your emotions about a certain situation or experience, maybe writing in your journal about other topics can help. Some suggestions: writing about a fun childhood memory, venting about work or an annoying co-worker, writing about the great things that happened today, the great things in general that you’re thankful for, the things you love about yourself, your goals, your accomplishments.
Some of these I can do in the moment, while others are general activities that I enjoy. Because you may need instant comfort to quell the urge to eat emotionally, you may want to include things you can do right then and there.
About the inspiration box, Albers writes:
“Trust the box. Commit to trying whatever technique you draw from the box. If that doesn’t work, commit to drawing another square and trying that technique. If that doesn’t work, commit to drawing yet another square. Practice that technique. The odds are very good that by the time you’ve finished doing three techniques, your urge to eat will have passed. “
What would you include in your inspiration box? Do you have other suggestions to stop emotional eating?