Here are a set of tools and helpful hints to use right at that pivotal point – that moment of struggle with an urge, craving or obsession to overeat, binge or indulge in food in an inappropriate or unhealthy way
These are some of the tools that have worked successfully for other people before, during or even after the moment of temptation or giving in to emotional eating.
You may find it easier to understand the idea of using tools beforehand, to prevent emotional eating. But it is also important to know how to minimize the harm done during and/or after the eating has started (Coming soon!).
All of the following tools involve becoming increasingly aware of what you are doing – without negative or harsh judgements – and intervening somewhere along the line. Find the ones that work for you.
- Pause before grabbing
- Leave the situation
- Feel your feelings
- Distract yourself
1. Pause before grabbing
The pause – however brief – gives you a chance to change direction
- Pause before you head for the kitchen or go into the store
- Pause before you open the fridge or cupboard
- Pause before you put that item in your grocery cart
This sounds so easy. People have said that if they could take this kind of preventative action, they wouldn’t have a problem! Many of the other tools help make it easier and more possible to intervene at this particular turning point.
Note that the tool is about pausing, not stopping. This is important.
- You may need to do this a number of times and yet still continue eating after you pause.
- Your brain is gradually building and strengthening a connection to the idea of pausing.
- But then there will come a time when you use the pause to make a different choice. And that is a moment to honour and celebrate. It is no small thing!
Here are some simple ways to pause
- Breathe – become aware of just one deep breath in, and then out again. If you want to do another – great.
- Count from 1 to 10. Or count backwards. Or try it in another language.
- Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 and rate your desire to eat. Your hunger may be a 3, and your desire to eat may be a 7. Make a note of that at some point. The findings could be useful.
- Pray – if you are so inclined, ask for spiritual help, and the strength and/or courage to resist.
Regardless of what you do after the pause, remember to give yourself lots of credit just for pausing. You are training your brain, and it will eventually pay off.
2. Leave the situation
If you are tempted to indulge when you aren’t even hungry, one of the most effective methods in the moment
is to remove yourself from the temptation. Walk away!
- Close the fridge/cupboard door – leave the kitchen/room
- Walk out of the store/restaurant
If you think you might be hungry, but aren’t sure, leave the situation for a few minutes so you can figure out
if you are actually hungry. As yourself
- When was the last time you ate?
- If you are hungry, is the food you were contemplating the wisest choice?
- If you are not hungry, then what is really going on? Does H.A.L.T. apply (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)?
3. Feel your feelings
Feeling your emotions is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially when you are wanting to eat something or craving food.
As mentioned above, you may need to get yourself away from the food situation before you feel safe enough to do any emotional feeling work. But in the moment, the following may help
- Rate the intensity of your feelings (on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 is low, 10 is high)
- Try to locate where the feeling is in your body. Is it in your throat, heart or stomach area, shoulders, back? Stay with the feeling.
- Can you name the feeling? If so, then make a few simple statements:
- I am feeling ………. right now.
- I can tolerate feeling …….. right this moment.
The truth is, actual feelings are not as difficult to tolerate as we imagine. But they become more difficult when negative and fearful thoughts are included in the mix. Sometimes our heads spin with too many thoughts at once, and we feel overwhelmed. In these instances, it is best to distract yourself with something other than food (if possible), until you can find some time (and a safe place) to sort things out.
4. Distract yourself
Distraction is probably the best-known tool in the emotional eating toolbox, because it is so effective.
Distraction is actually a behavioral technique from long ago – a form of positive reinforcement. You do
something else that is pleasurable (a key payoff of emotional eating) that will also take your mind off
the problem of wanting to eat, and off the problem(s) and/or feelings that make you feel like you want
to eat in the first place.
Here are the most effective ways to distract yourself from a food craving or desire to eat emotionally.
- Express your feelings
- Paint a picture, draw or doodle
- Write in a journal
- Move your body
- Do a yoga pose
- Use your eyes
- Read – a newspaper, magazine, something inspirational
- Look at a plant, tree, flower
- Use your ears – listen to music or talk radio
- Immerse yourself – take a bath or shower
You could probably add a few distracting activities of your own.
This toolbox tool involves a relationship with another and communicating in some way with that other – whatever way suits you best in that moment.
Making a connection with another is a form of distraction, but one that’s a two-way street. You get to express something and get something back.
In connecting with another, your focus might even change. Perhaps you can give the other individual or creature something they need. That’s often a great way to lift yourself out of a downward-heading mood.
- With a person or pet
- With a friend or family member – via text message, email or phone call
- Online – using social media or a bulletin board for people with emotional eating issues
- With yourself and/or your spiritual source – say a prayer/mantra