Before we get started if you have not read my post, "Are You An Emotional Eater? " then please read that before so that you can have a better understanding of emotional eating. If you are ready to dive in and learn the 4 ways to stop emotional eating in it;s tracks then continue reading.
1) Know your Triggers- Ever heard of Pavlov’s theory? Pavlov, a physiologist in the 1900's, studied the behavior of dogs and developed a theory of classical conditioning, showing that we can condition a dog to do an action by associating that action with a stimuli. What he did was he would ring a bell and then give the dog a treat. The dogs would start salivating at the sound of the bell as they had associated it with food. After they were conditioned to this process the researchers started just ringing the bell, handing the dogs no food after. What they found was that even in the absence of food the dogs began to salivate after they heard the bell because they were conditioned that bell=food. This work was a huge advance in the field of psychology and shows us today how we can be conditioned to do certain things.
In regards to emotional eating a lot of us have been conditioned to overeat. We may walk in the door and go straight into the kitchen, without even asking ourselves if we are hungry. We may hear bad news and go straight to the cookie jar or after talking to a certain person we feel the need to overeat. Do you overeat Monday after looking at certain posts on Instagram? When you start looking at your ex-boyfriend's FB page?
The key to stopping this automatic conditioning is to change the stimulus. Know what your triggers are so you can avoid them and/or recondition them. For the first example above, if your trigger is coming home from a long day at work and you step right into the kitchen change that routine up and go into another room first for a couple minutes. Maybe go up to your room and put your feet up on the wall for 5 minutes, take a shower before you eat, change your clothes, talk to a positive friend on the phone, do anything but allow yourself to go straight to the kitchen. After a while you will find that your overeating after working diminishes and you give your body time to recondition itself and calm, down before you eat so that you can be more mindful and present.
2) Find Better Coping Mechanisms- that bowl of icecream may have served you that first night your boyfriend dumped you but going back to that bowl of icecream is not going to help in the long run. Find other ways to cope with strong feelings. Take a walk, fill up a bath, grab a paper and pen, do art, go on a run. Write down right now 2 things that you could do to move through emotions that don't involve eating or cooking.
3) Take 3 Breathes- Train yourself to close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths before you put anything in your mouth. Connect with your body, ask it. “Am I hungry or am I lonely, tired, mad, sad, and frustrated?” if the answer is not hunger then consciously decide to do something else.
4) Visualize it- A lot of us say things like, "I wan't to stop emotionally eating" or "I don't want to binge on cookies" and so we read all these things about how to stop emotionally eating and we end up never achieving it because reality we have no clue what we are actually trying to achieve. Yes you want to stop stuffing your face with chips but that doesn't tell the universe or your body what it is you DO want.
You can't get to a place that you don't know about. If you are going to have a healthy flourishing relationship with food you need to be clear on what that relationship entails and how we want the relationship to go. So visualize it. Take a moment to close your eyes and envision yourself eating the way you want to. What does the eating experience look like? How do you feel after you eat this way?
The more vivid the picture is in your head and the more you are able to feel those emotions of what it feel like to eat this way, the easier it will become when it comes time to achieving that healthy relationship with food.
5) Slow Down- So you've decided that your gonna overeat, you feel like there no other option and nothing you can currently do about it right now. That's okay, awareness is the first step and you don't have to make a drastic change like throwing away all your ice cream just yet.
The second step though which is something we can all work on is to not change what your eating or if you eat but HOW you eat.Have you noticed that every time you overeat you do so in a very little amount of time? You start a bag of chips and 4 minutes later the bag is already empty and you start to feel guilty about how much you ate. If you have not worked on the underline reasons that you overeat and you find yourself back at the table chips in hand then give yourself permission to eat it, BUT you have to do it slowly. Instead of 4 minutes to eat the whole bag of chips set your timer for 15 minutes and make sure that your last bite does not come before then. This will allow your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down and allows your brain to catch up with what your body is doing and send the proper signals to stop.
Finally, consider getting some one-on-one help as you move through this journey as it can be far more challenging to make these changes on your own, and success is more likely going to happen when you have support and individual advice.
Contact me if you would like to set up an appointment to help you move through some of your deepest eating challenges by clicking here
Therapeutic Nutrition Counselor
Certified Eating Psychologist Coach
BS Public Health