Food is what your body needs to survive, but food is more than nourishment. It can be used as a form of emotional support to help us celebrate happy occasions and soothe painful moments.
Food is a blessing, but it can feel like a curse when you find yourself eating more for emotional support than nourishment. When this happens, it is tempting to force change by denying yourself food.
However, this approach backfires. Overcoming emotional eating requires more than willpower. In this post, I will share a two-part strategy that will leave you feeling in control of food rather than the other way around.
Overcome Emotional Eating – At-A-Glance
- Get your body working for you by using the strategy: Add As You Subtract
- Add blood sugar-stabilizing whole foods as you Subtract the refined junk food.
- Benefit #1: stabilizes your blood sugar levels, naturally reducing cravings
- Benefit #2: keeps hunger in check and limits your reliance on willpower
- Add blood sugar-stabilizing whole foods as you Subtract the refined junk food.
- Get your mind working for you
- Put the “emotional eater” label in your past.
- Focus on what is going right in your diet.
Overcome Emotional Eating – 2 Part Strategy [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- How what you eat determines how you’ll feel
- How the food you eat can affect cravings
- How a new mindset is more powerful than willpower alone
Part 1: Get Your Body Working For You
Because your body relies on food for energy and nutrients, it makes sense that we experience hunger as a reminder that it is time to add more fuel to our metabolic engine. Feeling hungry is fine, and it is perfectly okay to satisfy true physical hunger.
However, it is not unusual to experience what I will call false hunger, which is when you feel compelled to eat even though you have taken in plenty of calories to meet your body’s needs. This false hunger can show up when you are feeling stressed or sad about something.
Why Comfort Foods Feel Good
One reason we turn to food when we are feeling down is that it can pick us back up. This is especially true of foods that have been manufactured to provide a tempting mix of refined carbs, fat, and salt. When you consume these treats—which you often hear me refer to as the 3 C’s: cookies, cakes, and candies—they absorb into your system quickly.
This does two things, it dumps a lot of energy into your bloodstream, boosting your blood sugar level. It also causes the release of a feel-good chemical called dopamine in your brain. As a result, you feel good. The reward for eating junk food is a quick boost to your energy level and mood.
Even more challenging is the fact that this pleasurable experience is not just a once-and-done thing. Your brain is capable of learning and forming associations. When you are feeling bad, your brain reminds you that cookies will give you a lift, making you feel trapped in this emotional eating loop.
This is a frustrating place to find yourself, and it can be tempting to blame your body for the way you feel. However, it is simply doing what it is programmed to do. Your body is not your enemy. In fact, with a new approach, you can turn your body into your most important ally in overcoming emotional eating. The trick is to eat in a way that stabilizes your blood sugar levels.
Eat for a Stable Blood Sugar
I mentioned that the refined foods that fuel emotional eating absorb quickly into your system, causing a blood sugar spike. Your body closely regulates blood sugar levels, so this spike leads to a rapid blood sugar drop.
To bring the level back up again, your body turns on cravings, trying to get you to consume more quick-digesting energy. If you don’t give in to the craving, you feel miserable. If you do give in, you gave your brain another hit of dopamine, perpetuating this emotional eating loop and leaving you feeling out of control.
Blood sugar stabilizing foods are whole, unrefined foods that contain slow-digesting components like healthy fats, protein, and fiber. These foods quiet cravings and have a calming effect that makes you feel in control.
Add As You Subtract
Telling you to stop eating cookies, cakes, and candies and start eating salad, chicken, and avocados is not much help when you’re dealing with emotional eating. However, you can get yourself to this point by remembering to add as you subtract. In other words, add blood sugar-stabilizing foods as you remove the junk food from your diet. When you do this, you keep hunger in check and limit your reliance on willpower.
This is what makes adding as you subtract a game-changer for many people. Often when we become frustrated with our weight or eating habits, we decide to go cold turkey and stop all junk food. That is a good thought, but the question then becomes: What do you add to make up for the gaps in your eating day?
Before you subtract junk foods from your diet, have a plan for adding slow-digesting foods that are high in volume and nutrients. Non-starchy vegetables like salad greens, broccoli, and asparagus are ideal foods that meet all of these criteria. Other slow-digesting foods are those that are high in healthy fats and adequate in protein like nuts, seeds, eggs, high-quality meat, and cheese.
If you’d like more guidance, you can get my free 0,1,2,3 eating plan and video series that will guide you on how to add as you subtract.
Part 2: Get Your Mind Working For You
When you add as you subtract, your body is working with you by controlling hunger and cravings. However, you can still find yourself reaching for comfort food, which brings us to the second part of our strategy: getting your mind on board.
To successfully overcome emotional eating, you have to believe you can do it. This is accomplished by dropping the label and acknowledging when things go right.
When you describe yourself as an emotional eater, you subconsciously live up to that label, making it very hard to stick with your diet long enough to see results. By telling yourself a different story and focusing on what is working, you get your mind working for you, increasing your chances of reaching your goal.
Drop The Label:
“I’m an Emotional Eater” “I Used to Be an Emotional Eater”
Starting today, you can put your emotional eating label in the past. It just takes a bit of conscious redirection. Instead of describing yourself as an emotional eater, say, “back when I was an emotional eater.” It seems like a small thing, but it creates a much different perspective in your brain.
I credit this trick with helping me put sugar in the past. When I was younger, sugar was an everyday food, and thoughts of eating sugary treats were relentless. I was a sugar addict at the time, but that label no longer applies.
If you follow my blog, you may have heard me say, “I was a sugar addict, and I have the cavities to prove it.” The important word in that sentence is “was.” By putting that identity in the past, I move away from sugar rather than being drawn to it. Give it a try. At first, you’ll feel like you are lying to yourself, but you can overcome that feeling by shifting your focus.
Focus Shift: That Went Well
When it comes to eating, no one is perfect. If you focus on the imperfections, you’ll quickly get discouraged. However, if you do the opposite and focus on what you did right, your confidence will build, helping you move away from emotional eating.
The other day, my husband and I decided to have a “That Went Well” day. It is easy to get upset about little things in life. The coffee pot is empty; the dog won’t stop barking; your computer updates are taking too long. If you focus on these things, you get irritated and get tempted to take the edge off with something sweet. We are all guilty of this.
Keith and I decided to set our focus on what was going right. This is more than just being grateful for the blessing in our lives. It required us to acknowledge the little things that are good but often overlooked. That day, when we got a pull-through parking space in a crowded parking lot, we said, “That went well.” When our dog went outside and didn’t get her leash wrapped around the patio chair like she usually would, we said, “That went well.”
We even started doing it as a preemptive exercise. When we felt like complaining, we asked each other, “What went well?” We were always able to come up with something, and it always put a positive spin on the situation.
I encourage you to give yourself a “That Went Well” day today regarding your health and eating. In other words, acknowledge the small things. When you cut open an avocado, and it is the perfect ripeness, say, “that went well.”
When the elevator is broken, and you have to take the stairs, say, “That went well. I got some unexpected exercise.” When you realize that no one cares that you passed on the cupcakes and just had coffee, say, “That went well.”
These mental exercises will take some conscious effort, but when you do them, you erode the subtle emotional eating triggers that cause you to act in ways that don’t support what you are trying to achieve.
When it comes to getting control over emotional eating, you’ll be happiest with your results when you get your body and mind working for you. Get your body on board by adding blood sugar-stabilizing whole foods as you subtract quick-digesting, refined foods.
To get your mind working for you, put emotional eating in the past by dropping the label and shift your perspective by focusing on what is going right in your diet. If you’d like a guide to help you get your eating on track, check out my free 0,1,2,3 strategy.
Thanks for reading and have a great week!
About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.