Raise your hand if you have struggled with emotional eating, also known as comfort eating? Help with emotional eating is so important. We often don’t realize how much our emotions and the foods we eat are connected. This blog will help you learn how to stop stress eating, how to stop emotional eating, and how not to just eat happy foods, but happy healthy foods. What foods make you happy though? We will also explore the need for healthy gut foods, and how much our gut health impacts our emotional well being.
What Is Emotional Eating?
If emotions are so attached to eating, then what is the actual definition of emotional eating? Medicine.net defines emotional eating as the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods — in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. Does this sound like you? You’re not alone. Sure we’ve all been sad and perhaps we reach for the chocolate or the glass of wine. This sounds normal, right? So, when does it become a problem?
As a social worker, I can attest that any habit becomes a “problem” or a form of dysfunction/disorder when the habit starts to impede our daily living, functioning, or overall health and well being. If we only ever learn how to use food to comfort us when life does not treat us kindly, how can we ever use food to nourish our bodies properly? What if food is not available to us in our immediate moment of dissatisfaction? This is why we must unlearn the habits of allowing food to be our only comfort. We must learn to take care of our bodies and soothe our souls so that we can live happy fulfilling lives. If I sound preachy, or like a know it all, it’s because I have been in your shoes (the shoes of the emotional eater that is). You may have seen a picture of me or follow me on social media and are thinking, what the heck does this girl know, she looks healthy, she looks happy. Well let me tell you, this didn’t happen overnight, and I am here to tell you how I started to transform from an emotional to a conscious eater.
Food and Culture
Many cultures use food as a celebration. Food for celebrations, weddings, birthdays, mourning, etc. In some cultures, the types of food vary from healthy and veggie-filled to not so healthy. My culture weighed in on the not so healthy side. I think I learned to eat when I was sad from my mother. Yes, behaviors and habits in regards to eating are also learned. I distinctly remember one Valentine’s day when I was an early teen and my boyfriend at the time had broken up with me (how dare he) and my dad bought me an entire cheesecake to cheer me up. Now, this was not a mini cheesecake, the regular size one, and I ate almost the entire thing. Essentially I learned from a young age that food was there to comfort me. So as I grew older I turned to wine, sweet treats, popcorn, and no matter how healthy I would eat during the day, I was completely derailed at night. Unfortunately, the truth is, you can’t out-train a bad diet.
How do I Stop Emotional Eating?
I am so thankful I became a health and wellness coach four years ago and became a part of a team where our culture is healthy eating. I have adopted the rule that our weight loss is 80% nutrition, 20% fitness. There are two amazing women whose nutrition programs I swear by; Autumn Calabrese who developed Ultimate Portion Fix and Ilana Muhlstein who developed 2B Mindset and just came out with her first book about her program and journey with emotional eating. Both of these programs are made simple for folks like me who need structure and support, they are both easy to follow and frankly have saved my life.
I relate to Autumn because she grew up in an Italian family where it was heavily carbohydrate related foods. Her father doesn’t believe in the work she does regarding nutrition and her father’s health suffers because of it despite the millions of people Autumn has helped through her career and personal journey. She was very active as a child and would run around her neighborhood and then when she moved to the suburbs and wasn’t running around as much she started to pack on the pounds at a very awkward adolescent stage. When she became a fitness trainer and nutrition consultant she started exploring her emotional eating and noticed that she, like myself and many of you, would reach for the wine or the chips in an emotional crisis. She then started to track how she felt after she ate and made a program and trackers to help others realize there are healthier options to reach for when feeling down. It also is a way to identify our triggers.
What are some of the common emotional eating triggers?
Triggers are our emotional response to an outside stimulus that brings us back into an emotional state of sadness, anger, fear, or anxiety, usually stemming from trauma. What still triggers us or bothers us is something we need to heal. This article talks about recognizing and healing triggers. When we automatically reach for certain foods as a coping mechanism this is a good time to note what is triggering us. The amazing trigger tracker I have been using from Autumn has helped me to curb my emotional eating. The tracker includes:
- What I am eating
- How much I am eating
- The time of day I’m eating
- How I feel before I eat
- How I feel after I eat
It is such good information to have!
Ilana Muhlstein’s story also starts in adolescence. She was overweight and awkward and spent many years yo-yo dieting and going to weight-loss camps. She developed a healthy easy to follow program that helped her to get out of her emotional eating by also using a tracker and following her two bunnies, hence the name 2B Mindset. Her program is about shifting our mindset which can be huge for our triggers. It is not about deprivation but intuitively eating and plating our food properly. Her basic principles are:
- Water first
- Veggies most
- Use the scale
As someone who is often guided by emotions stepping on the scale was at one time triggering for me so I completely stopped using it and let’s just say things got a little out of control. Now with the new principles, I have learned from 2B Mindset, I simply use the scale as a tool to see if how I am treating my body with nutrition and fitness is accomplishing the goals I have set for myself. I can quickly and easily see if what I am putting in my body is nourishing me and keeping me at a healthy weight or see if the scale is going up. When the scale is going up I can take an inventory of what I have chosen to put in my body and why.
Recipes and Tips from Ultimate Portion Fix and 2B Mindset
Lastly, I would like to include some practical tips for replacement foods that are helpful when we want a sweet treat or carbohydrate-heavy snack. Utilizing Ilana’s “veggies most” principle, a few replacements are zucchini noodles instead of pasta, cauliflower rice instead of rice, turnip fries instead of french fries. The turnip fries are so delicious and easy to make in an oven or air fryer. One of my favorite replacements for dessert from Autumn is her Cauliflower Ice Cream.
If you feel like you are wanting more recipes, tips, and tricks to living your healthiest life, I have lots more where those came from. All of my meal plans include access to hundreds of recipes and short, easy, all levels workouts. If you have any specific recipes you would like or fitness program questions, always feel free to reach out to me. Thanks for reading I hope this information was useful and finds you in a space of the heart.
Love and Light Always
“Sarah Savino is my recommended Wellness and Nutrition Coach who resides in Colorado but has a community of clients she guides and manages nationally. She has her frequent retreats that her clients are encouraged but not required to attend and someone who knows first hand how it is to be overworked and overweight. She is a living truth that once within the right community and with the right guide, everything is possible. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and facebook.com/sarah.savino IG- the_fit_philanthropist ”- Dr. Shakib, your Irvine Chiropractor