You want to eat, but you know you shouldn’t. You're not hungry, but you can't step away from the refrigerator. You pull out a yogurt and promise yourself you'll just eat half, but five minutes later it’s gone—and, even worse, you still want more. Grrr.
In truth, you are hungry for something. It's just not food. We eat without true physiological hunger for one really big reason—yep, just one—you're hungry for distraction or emotional satiation and you think it can be found in food.
For example, take my client, Sandy. Sandy often feels anxious, and one of her primary coping mechanisms is to reach for a bag of chips or popcorn—a food that will allow her to keep reaching for more. She knows she’s an emotional eater and that she’s triggered by frustration, boredom, loneliness, and other unpleasant feelings.
Yes, we know she’s eating to numb those feelings, but what’s really going on? What is she searching for? Why are these feelings so uncomfortable to her that she feels like she has to numb them? And, most importantly, how can we change the status quo?
What if, instead of just playing out this pattern over and over again, we could destroy it? Well, we can.
1. Identify your triggers.
Get clear and aware by noticing the energetic sensations that were created right before you started this emotional eating pattern. Did you have a particularly distressing thought? If so, what was it? Did someone say something that bothered you? If so, what was it? Did you enter an environment that made you anxious? What about it was stressful? Did you perceive a feeling from someone else? What was it?
Cool. Got it?
2. Uncover the root issue.
How old were you when you first felt the way you feel when you experience the above trigger? What happened then? Did that experience change the way you felt about someone else, about life, or about yourself? Is that thing you felt a reflection of reality or a reflection of fear?
I'm betting it's the latter.
3. Burn it down.
The first time you experienced a negative emotional stimulus and realized a cookie made you feel better, your brain created a connection that said "Rejection/judgment/whatever hurts less when I have a cookie." You taught yourself that a cookie was what would make you feel better, and in the moment, it was a distraction. But it doesn't heal the underlying wounds, or solve the issue for you. As long as you let yourself act (i.e., eat) based on a lie (that eating will change the way you feel for the better), you will perpetuate this negative pattern and stay trapped in your bad habits.
So, you have to remind yourself every time you feel sad or angry or hurt that your instinct to reach for the ice cream is not an instinct that serves you well. It's perpetuating the falsehood that hiding your feelings with food is the best way to address them. It isn't. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and you'll start to realize that you can cope with your emotions by facing them head-on. Pretty soon, the only appeal your local bakery will have for you is plain ol' deliciousness.