It’s been said that about 75% of the excess calories people take in are triggered by emotion, rather than hunger. I’d say that’s accurate in most cases, particularly if you include habits. Mindless “autopilot” habits and emotional eating are the source of so much ill health, and even premature death.
Understand first that food manufacturers and sellers know very well how important your emotional eating is to their revenues. Just pay attention to magazine ads, or television commercials at prime time, if you have any doubt.
You’re not going to see miserable, obese people snacking on that junk food, eating at that restaurant, or guzzling that pop or sports drink. They’ll be happy, having the time of their lives with friends, and definitely not feeling (or showing) any ill effects from their high-calorie low-quality food binge.
Don’t let your mood choose your food. It’s not going to lead to what you’re seeing in the commercials!
Eating For Reward
If you’re bored, depressed, fatigued, lonely, or just feeling a bit sorry for yourself after a long day at work – you’re their prey. It’s so easy to subliminally trigger you to want to feel better by eating, especially in a culture that’s associated food with rewards since you were a small child. Here’s how you do an intervention for yourself when you recognize this pattern: You consciously choose an alternative. Some examples:
- take the neighbors dog for a walk
- write in your journal
- create something. Sketch, paint, write… do whatever you do for personal expression.
- read a book
- do yoga or other exercise routine
- talk to friends
- take a warm bath (bubbles are great, or epsom salts for a relaxing magnesium boost)
- listen to music
- play a game you enjoy
- get (or give) a massage
- watch a movie or favorite show (Netflix or other “show on demand” services are good for this, with no tempting commercials)
- meditate (or pray)
- do some gardening
- clean something
Unhealthy Eating Habits
If lunch isn’t complete without a bottle of pop, or you always eat a bag of chips while watching TV, you’re trapped in a habit cycle that will sabotage your efforts to get healthy. Stopping cold turkey can work for some, but many fail.
For most people, becoming conscious of the issue and truthful with themselves is the first step. The next, necessary one (unless you want to stop there and damage your own self esteem), is to find a replacement habit that is healthier.
For example, pop can be replaced by green tea, or even sparkling water with lime. Those chips can become air-popped popcorn, or fresh fruit, and you can make a “rule” for yourself that if you’re too lazy to go make it, no snack. One woman I know replaced potato chips with homemade apple chips, but since they were time consuming to make, the habit slowly dwindled from every night to a now-and-then treat.
Eating From Social Pressure
Eating because “you must taste Grandma’s cookies” or because you’ve been taught you must clear your plate, or because “we always have doughnuts at the office on Fridays” is classic social pressure eating.
Again, while the first step is noticing that you’re being influenced (and who is doing it), you need to follow up by standing up for your health by setting clear boundaries. You may even find this type of social pressure increases when you state your intention to lose weight (or people start noticing your weight loss).
While it can be difficult to learn to deal with pressure, the comments, judgement and criticism from others is probably reducing your quality of life in many other areas if it’s effecting your health. The liberation that comes from learning to recognize it and firmly, decisively state your intentions will be life-changing.
Your food choices are yours. The only person who should choose your food is you. Food choices are personal, and not anyone else’s business unless you want them to be. If you are dealing with people who can’t respect your clearly stated request that they stop commenting, it may be time to consider changing your circumstances to limit your exposure to them.
Developing a Postive Body Image
Once you figure out that emotional issues are impacting your health, you can get help with specifics. Whether it’s developing your self esteem, a positive body image, or dealing with childhood emotional trauma, there is help available. It may not be easy, but a little self-knowledge is definitely the first step in recovery, and your health and longevity is a huge reward.
If you’re in Hawaii and need some help with emotional eating or other factors related to how to choose your food, give us a call at dietMD Hawaii. Your initial consultation is free, so the only thing you have to lose is excess weight!