Emotional Eating

Weight issues almost always have an emotional element. We all know the secret formula for losing weight. It is to eat less and exercise more. Every single diet and slimming regime is nothing more than a variation of this theme.

So if we all know what we should do, why is it so hard to eat less and exercise more?

Certain foods release chemicals that cause us to feel relaxed and happy. If we are stressed we will crave those foods for the chemical response they trigger.

So here are some things to do to help you cope with stress that can keep you from scoffing the chocs.

1. Stay conscious. It is impossible to keep doing something that is bad for us and do it consciously. Most emotional or comfort eating is a knee jerk reaction. We do it without being conscious of it. We know we are doing it but are not fully conscious of actually doing it. Next time you find yourself eating when you are stressed just pause and do it with full consciousness. You may still eat the food, but when you do it with full consciousness, you will soon find that you no longer want to comfort eat or that you stop eating sooner.

2. Notice and acknowledge the emotion or stress.  Emotional eating is a way we suppress our emotions. We try to distract ourselves from them by eating. Unfortunately it doesn’t work very well, not only does the stress come back, but it is usually compounded by additional feelings of guilt for eating food we don’t need. Instead, pay full attention to the emotions you are feeling.
Ask yourself and write down:

  • What am I feeling now?
  • Where do I feel this in my body?
  • Does it have a shape or colour?
  • Does it have a voice? What would it say?
  • What does it want for me (that is positive)?

3. Take deep breaths. When we are stressed we breathe shallow and high in the chest. This both creates and is caused by stress. If you breathe high and shallow you will become stressed. If you breathe low, slow and deep you will relax. Try it now. Take a deep slow breath. Keep breathing, very deep and very slow. Don’t puff all the air out in one go, instead, allow it to come out slowly.  Now, notice that you feel more relaxed.

4. Spend a minute (or longer) in silence every day.  We are bombarded by sensory overload, noise, other people, the radio, iPod, TV constantly. Most people very rarely allow themselves time for their thoughts. Even if you are not overworked or in a high pressure job constant stimulation of the nervous system is tiring. Sit in silence (no reading) for at least 5 minutes, and ideally 20 minutes each day. If you close your eyes, even better. Do this sitting up rather than lying down or you will likely fall asleep. When you do this you will be practising a simple form of meditation, the emotional and physical health benefits of meditation have been well researched and proven.

5. Peripheral vision vs. tunnel vision. There are actually two ways we can use our eyes. One is known as foveal vision, which is a form of tunnel vision. We see only what is right in the centre of our visual field. When you are in foveal vision you are stressed. This triggers the sympathetic stress response in your nervous system equivalent to the fight or flight reaction.

Conversely, peripheral vision triggers a parasympathetic nervous response of relaxation. When you are in peripheral vision you are aware of the complete panorama of your full visual field. You can practise this by finding a spot on the wall, fix your gaze on that spot and keep it there. Expand your awareness to the edges of your visual field. You will notice movement more easily so if it helps bring your hands up to the side of your head and wiggle your fingers whilst keeping your gaze fixed on the spot or point straight ahead. This relaxation response is actually hard-wired into the brain making it impossible to feel a negative emotion (like stress) when you are in peripheral vision. It does not solve the problem that is causing the stress but will help you relax when you need to.

6.  Suspend judgement. Nothing is good or bad in and of itself. It’s WE who decide that everything is either good or bad. When things are not going the way we want, because we have decided or judged this to be ‘bad’ it causes us to feel bad about the situation. When things are going very ‘badly’ we can feel very stressed indeed. We can take the pressure off ourselves by deciding to suspend judgment and stop resisting the way things are.

Next time things are not going the way you would like them to just pause and say to yourself “How Interesting! This is not what I would prefer. What I would prefer here is this…..”

7. Pay attention to what you want.  It is only possible to feel anxious or stressed when you are paying attention to things NOT being the way you want. Worry is only possible if you are thinking about things turning out not the way you want. So next time you find yourself feeling stressed, worried or anxious, change your thoughts away from what you DON’T want and towards what you DO want instead.

8. Identify the source of the stress. Sometime we feel inexplicable stress, worry or anxiety.  We feel bad but don’t know why, this is a common cause of comfort eating. The emotions are a sign from your unconscious mind that you need to pay attention to something. Some people might say it is a sign from your intuition that you need to take some action or make a change or just take notice of something.

Next time you feel anxious or stressed, take a moment to go inside and ask your unconscious mind what you need to pay attention to. What action do you need to take? What do I need to know the knowing of which will have this problem disappear. Then trust whatever comes up.

9. Identify what is REALLY important. Often we become stressed because we have a ‘to do’ list 3 pages long. Go through all your tasks and commitments and put them into two lists. Important and Urgent. Then go through the Urgent list and cross off any that are not important, and go through the Important list and highlight any that are also Urgent.

Then rip up and throw away the Urgent list, and only do those tasks on the Important list that are also Urgent. Notice how much better you feel.

10. Turn off the inner chatter. Most stress is caused not by what is happening NOW, but by what we are thinking or saying to ourselves. Have you ever run over and over a conversation in your mind after the event? This is stressful and is not generally helpful. If you can turn off your inner chatterbox you will find yourself being significantly more relaxed and less stressed. Here is a quick fix to quieten the prattle.

  • Relax your jaw. If your jaw is tense it is probably because you are talking to yourself.
  • Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, the high part about 2 cm behind your teeth.
  • With your tongue still and your jaw relaxed the chatter stops.

10. Laugh. Do something every day that makes you laugh. Watch a funny movie, or TV show or get together with a bunch of mates who make you laugh. Laughter triggers a variety of chemical changes in the brain and body that neutralise stress.

11. Work out to work out your problem. Exercise reduces the chemicals and hormones associated with stress, and increases those that generate feelings of wellbeing. Exercise lifts our mood and literally ‘works out’ all our problems. That’s why it’s called a work out. Next time you have a problem, go for a work out and notice that your problems just don’t seem so bad any more, and many times the solution will miraculously appear when you exercise.

Life is meant to be fun, and interesting and exciting. Don’t let negative emotions or stress lead to comfort eating or to stop you from being, doing and having the life you want to live.

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