How to Stop Eating your Way Around Your Feelings

We all know the terminology, and lots of us engage in it with regularity.  Stress Eating.  Emotional Eating.  The reference is to any type of eating that is triggered by something OTHER THAN how hungry our bodies actually are in the moment.  We are literally on autopilot and have no idea whether or not we are actually hungry when we put food in our mouths.  
A body in hormonal balance that is operating optimally at a healthy body weight only signals the brain for food when it is in need of fuel to operate.  Any desire for food at other times, such as to avoid or resolve something emotional uncomfortable or stressful, will ultimately lead to the consumption of more calories than the body needs, which will be stored on the body as fat.   
The Challenge…
Most of us are in the habit of immediately satisfying any urge we feel to eat.  To eliminate unnecessary overeating, we must tune into our bodies so we know when we are experiencing true hunger signals and when we are not.  If our bodies are truly in need of fuel, it will send that message to the brain.  True hunger is typically accompanied by some sort of physical sensation, such as a growling stomach.  However, in the case of stress or emotional eating, the signal to eat is sent from the brain, as a thought, to the body.  The thoughts leading us to eat our stress or emotions might sound something like this:   
1.     That looks so delicious
2.     I deserve that after the hard day I have had
3.     That will taste amazing
4.     I will feel better if I eat that
If you’re overweight, you have likely created and rewarded that desire so often that is has become unconscious and automatic.  It may feel you are eating against your will, and essentially you are. 
But why?  Desire to eat often comes from and unconscious effort to numb or avoid unpleasant feelings about things we are experiencing in life. Most of us are not taught how to manage our emotions, so we turn to food to dull or distract ourselves.
The Solution…
One of my brilliant clients developed the “Cucumber Test” to help her determine whether she was truly hungry or her body was telling her to eat for another reason.  I told her up front I was stealing this concept and sharing it, so here’s how it goes:  She has cut cucumbers ready to eat.  When she finds herself feeling hungry in between planned meals, she invites herself to have the cucumbers as a snack.  She told herself that if she’s truly hungry, her body will welcome the cucumbers for fuel and they will taste delicious.  However, if she simply doesn’t want the cucumbers, it must be that she’s desiring a snack for a reason other than hunger. 
I found this to be an excellent way to become aware of what’s going on in the moment.  What’s more, she finds that when she’s truly hungry, the cucumbers do taste delicious and they do satisfy her hunger.  Of course, when she’s being triggered by stress or emotions, she doesn’t desire the cucumbers because she instead has the urge to eat something sweet. 
Once you have determined that your body isn’t really hungry but you still have the urge to eat, then what? There are three basic paths you can choose.  We don’t usually make a conscious choice, but we can learn to do so. 
  1. Eat the thing you desire
  2. Try to resist the urge
  3. Allow the urge and let it pass
By eating what you desire when you aren’t truly hungry, you only reinforce the urge for purposes of indulging in the future.  Resisting the urge is certainly better than succumbing to it.  However, resisting an urge with willpower only lasts for so long before you indulge the urge, at which time the urge can be even stronger than it was initially since it has been denied.  The goal is for you to unlearn desire by allowing the urges to be there without responding to them.  The brain will eventually learn and stop sending you the urge message (like a misbehaving child who eventually stops begging when they do not get the response they want).  By the way, the first two options leave you with two problems to solve:  the consequences of your overeating AND the problem you were trying to avoid in the first place.  
Please try my client’s Cucumber Test (or some variation of it) to gauge whether you’re experiencing true physical hunger.  If not, recognize the urge for what it is, understand why you’re feeling it, and then allow it to pass unsatisfied.  I promise you, you will not die from allowing an urge to pass unsatisfied.  In time you will experience the urges less and less as your brain and body learn that you only satisfy a true physical need for fuel.  
The Invitation….
To get started on a deeper dive into learning how to break the pattern of emotional and stress eating and permanent weight loss, click on the calendar below to schedule a FREE mini-session with me.  What do you have to lose but some weight??  


How to Avoid Stress Eating in the Midst of Your Stressful Day

The Reality…
In a recent blog, I wrote about the prevalence of stress in today’s world, and offered 10 tips to manage stress.  (If you missed it, click here to read Ten Tips to Manage Stress.)  The reality is that if we do not learn to effectively manage our stress, we may instead find ourselves managing a whole host of other undesirables. To reiterate, the failure to manage stress can result in anxiety, depression, insomnia, premature aging, mood disorders, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.  On top of all those serious health concerns, failure to manage stress can also result in weight gain, and over time, obesity, stemming from poor food choices made while under stress.  I am referring to what is commonly called “stress eating” and nothing can take a woman off track with weight loss faster than a high stress day and the stress eating that somehow gets her through it.   
The Challenge…
The challenge, of course, is that those urges to stress eat strike when we are at a particularly vulnerable point emotionally.  Those of us who stress eat seek solace in “comfort foods”, which are typically packed full of sugar, flour and calories.  Those comfort foods provide an extra dose of dopamine to make us feel better, at least temporarily, which is one of the reasons we crave them.  Dopamine is known as the “feel-good hormone” because it provides feelings of euphoria and bliss.  No matter how much better your body may feel after eating “comfort food”, the body will still be at risk for the undesirables referenced above, and you certainly won’t be any closer to the your weight loss goals, especially if your stress eating occurs with any regularity.  In addition to the ten tips provided in the prior blog, which are more of a proactive and overall approach to stress management, below are some techniques you can use “in the moment” to avoid stress eating in the midst of your stressful day. 
The Solution…
If you are in the habit of experiencing stressful days because of your job or relationships, then it makes sense to plan in advance for a healthy interruption that you will implement when stress arises.  I encourage you to have at least five healthy interruption techniques at the ready.  Below I offer a few ideas to get you started, but ultimately you will want to develop techniques that are meaningful to your particular circumstances.  Tell yourself in advance that the stress may be coming, and if it does, you are prepared and will employ one of your techniques before you resort to stress eating.  Nine times out of ten your stress will dissipate without the need for food, and your body and brain will eventually become conditioned to the fact that food is no longer your answer to stress relief:
    1.  Have a safe space designated within your office or home (wherever you find yourself encountering stress, to the extent practical) where you can go light a candle or incense, close the blinds or drapes, and exercise some deep inhalations and exhalations.  Even five minutes of respite can bring about a shift in your stress level and allow you to push the reset button simply with space and breath, and not food.
     2.   Another option to deep inhalations and exhalations in your safe space would be to listen to a quick guided meditation. 

3   3.  Grab a bottle of water and go for a quick walk outside.  The water will help your body to feel as if it is being satiated, the walk will get your body moving and your blood flowing, and the fresh air will prompt you to breathe.  The whole experience will give you a fresh perspective.  

     4.  Have an understanding with a friend or family member that you will each provide each other with support in stressful times where either of you might otherwise feel tempted to stress eat.  Place a time limit on the phone call.  Even five minutes on the phone with a friend who understands what you are trying to accomplish with weight loss and the stressors of your life can quickly bring you back into perspective while allowing the food urge to pass unsatisfied.

The Invitation….
To get started on a deeper dive into stress management and permanent weight loss, click on the calendar below to schedule a FREE mini-session with me.  What do you have to lose but some weight??