Is emotional eating something you struggle with?
If so, this is for you.
Before we start, if you prefer to listen rather than read, you can hear this article in podcast format here –
Why do we struggle with emotional eating?
Sometimes life is TOUGH, and it feels like there’s no time to focus on you.
Taking care of yourself, improving your habits, losing weight… there’s just too much going on.
There are certainly times when life really does get in the way, and throws some tough challenges at you.
But often, we are waiting for a quieter, easier time to change our habits… And we’re missing the opportunity to practise building better ones when we need them most.
If you have a habit of emotional eating, that habit usually leads to negative long term effects.
And those effects outweigh (no pun intended) the brief benefit you might feel from using food for comfort in the moment.
This is something I work on a lot with my online coaching clients, and it can completely transform both their weight loss results, and their relationship with food.
So lets see if we can help you with that too, in a doable compassionate way.
We all emotionally eat at times
Emotional eating is never something to feel bad about – we all do it.
When life is feeling busy and stressful, people often end up emotional eating, and then beat themselves up for it.
Feeling bad and guilty isn’t very fun, so then they try to put it behind them.
Move on. Do better tomorrow.
Now, moving on is a good thing, but often we do this without taking a useful lesson from the experience. And that means the pattern is likely to repeat.
So often people struggle with emotional eating, gain weight because of it, panic, and try to get rid of that weight quickly.
Enter: restrictive diets.
This leads to getting (or staying) stuck in the misery of the diet cycle.
All the while, worsening their relationship with food, and not addressing the root issue.
Simplicity and self compassion
So, let’s establish a few things we definitely don’t need:
- restrictive diets
- beating ourselves up
- complicated food plans
And what about things we do need?
Well, in my experience as a personal trainer and online coach (working with thousands of women over the last 14 years), I would suggest that these are a few key components to lasting success:
- self kindness
- self compassion
- a simple doable plan
- working on mindset – becoming aware of unhelpful thought patterns, challenging them and creating new ones
- consistency, not perfection
With so much going on, we do not need complicated or restrictive diets.
But with no plan at all, the environment we live in means we are likely to go off the rails and eat junk.
It’s the easiest, tastiest, most widely available option.
So when we have no extra mental energy for diets or making decisions, we need to keep things simple.
We need to have a plan.
It also helps to remember this:
Weight loss is often seen as suffering in our brain
This is based on past dieting experience.
If you have ever followed a following a restrictive weight loss diet that led to hunger and feelings of deprivation…
Your brain is likely to associate any future weight loss attempt with that negative past experience.
The thought of being hungry and missing out on favourite foods kinda sucks.
And then there’s the fear of how much time and mental effort it will take to count calories, points or macros, or create complicated meals that you just don’t have time to make.
Your brain might say something like..
‘let’s lose weight later, when things are bit quieter… when this next thing is out of the way..’
But when is there ever a perfect time?
Life will always be busy and, to some degree, stressful.
So we need to teach ourselves to deal with stress and change without emotionally eating.
We need to stop putting our dreams on hold, waiting for the perfect time that never comes.
And we need to quit quitting when we slip up.
Struggles and slip ups are not failures.
They are GOLDEN opportunities to learn, practise self compassion, and create a win for your future self.
Notice self limiting thoughts (and shift to self empowering ones)
We all have habitual thoughts. Little things we think and say, without really questioning if they’re helpful or actually true.
These are thoughts we need to watch for and ideally, shift perspective on.
Don’t let your brain convince you that emotional eating is comforting, or makes you happy.
If overeating food is denying you your dreams and your goals, it’s not comforting.
And it’s not making you happy.
In a misguided way, your habit brain is trying to take care of you and make you feel better. But it only cares about the short term.
It has no consideration for the long term effects, and how that impacts the future you.
Which ultimately means, you’re not taking care of yourself – you’re sabotaging yourself.
Usually it’s because you don’t want to deal with some kind of emotion. Which is understandable, and why it’s so important to have self compassion.
Beating yourself up leads to remaining stuck. Self compassion opens us up to do things in a different way.
Thinking differently about emotional eating
If we want to be someone who no longer comfort eats, we need to think like someone who doesn’t comfort eat.
When you identify as a comfort eater, you can end up feeling hopeless and resigned in the moment.
Your brain might say ‘Its just what I do, I can’t stop myself’
But this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
You believe it’s what you do, and you remember all the times you’ve done it before.
You think about it – essentially mentally rehearsing exactly what you don’t want to do. While doing this, you hope you don’t do it, and tell yourself you’ll try really hard to resist.
But because you haven’t thought about what succeeding looks like, your brain only has the old pattern to follow:
Feel uncomfortable trying to resist, and eventually cave in.
What could you think instead?
These are some examples of thoughts to guide you through times when you’re experiencing an urge to emotionally eat:
- I need to learn to be uncomfortable – this is a good challenge for me.
- I can handle feeling like this: it will pass and I will feel better tomorrow.
- It might be uncomfortable right now, but I don’t want to numb my emotions.
- I can allow my feelings to be there.
- I am safe.
- I want to feel proud of myself.
- I know when I eat this food I always feel rubbish after – I don’t want that.
Imagine yourself sitting with the urge: breathing slow, feeling calm.
Knowing you’re allowed that food, you’re just choosing to wait and feel the feelings first.
Then see yourself doing something else that feels kind and comforting (examples below).
imagine the urge starting to fade
And feeling proud that you’re comforting yourself in a different way.
Alternatives to emotional eating
These are some options you could go for.
It’s very helpful to have at least one or two of these planned and ready to do ahead of time.
By doing that, you remove the need to use extra willpower deciding what to do in the moment – you’ve already got a plan to follow.
Which ones appeal to you?
- sitting or lying down to rest for a few minutes
- wrapping yourself up in your favourite hoody or blanket
- stepping outside for fresh air
- going for a short walk
- putting on a pre prepared music playlist that makes you feel good
- making a hot drink
- watching a youtube video that’s positive, interesting or uplifting
- doing a short guided meditation (Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer and Buddhify are all great apps to check out, and there are plenty on Youtube too)
- making plans for a fun trip
- calling or messaging a friend
- talking about how you’re feeling
- doing a new language lesson on Duolingo (this may be more distracting than comforting, but is powerful in engaging your brain in something different that can also provide a sense of accomplishment after)
- hugging someone you love
- stroking or playing with a pet
- taking action (if you can) on the thing that’s causing you stress or upset
- asking for help
- drinking a glass of water
- making a plan for the next day, so you feel more confident and in control
- getting an early night
How to Overcome Emotional Eating – a big step people miss
Whenever you notice any sign of progress, celebrate that.
To overcome emotional eating, your brain needs to learn that other actions feel better.
To do this, you need to CHOOSE to feel proud of yourself for any signs of progress.
When you do that, your brain gets a little hit of dopamine – the feel-good hormone. And that encourages it to want to repeat the habit next time.
For more help with emotional eating…
I have a podcast all about mindset for weight loss, nutrition, building habits, emotional eating, and more
It’s on all podcast platforms, and you can find it on Spotify via this link:
If you’d love support, accountability and guidance to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable and enjoyable way, find out more about online coaching here: