Been there, done that. I’ve been an emotional eater myself. Ice cream was what I ate in an attempt to relax and reduce anxiety a couple of years ago. To eat to feel better emotionally is very common.
Probably you’re sick tired of being tired and out of balance. Maybe you’re also tired of being overweight, and having tried all the diets you can think of without any positive results. And somewhere you know you could eat better. Then it’s time to learn how to deal with emotional eating.
Identify the real problem
In many societies we are since early age raised with connections between food and emotions, such as being rewarded or punished with food.
Without completely blaming our upbringing, and being a victim thereof, reasons for emotional eating are often founded in the childhood. Emotions such as hopelessness and not being loved are often underlaying reasons for emotional eating later in life.
We can try, as we often do with or without awareness, to fill this empty space within. But food will never make you satisfied and fill this gap of emotional imbalance.
It’s first when you’ll identify the real problem to your eating behavior that you’ll be able to start to make positive changes in your life.
Physical vs. emotional hunger
To begin with, let’s differentiate between physical vs. emotional hunger, because they are two different things.
The physical hunger is a natural and good sign, which when you eat well often happens every 3-4 hours. You’ll slowly and gradually feel hungry from your stomach. If you normally eat balanced, you’ll be wanting to eat something healthy, some kind of real food.
If you on the other hand get emotional hungry, you’ll feel a sense of craving! It often happens quickly and impulsively. Like you just have to have it, right now. It’s also often that you crave something unhealthy and specific. Something high in carbohydrates, sugar and fat, and without- or low in nutritional value. Do you see the difference?
When you are hungry and eat something healthy in moderate amounts, you’ll feel full and satisfied. Your stomach and nervous system will feel calm and happy after the meal.
When, or if, you give in to emotional eating on the other hand, you’ll never feel satisfied or truly calm in the long run. You are more likely to feel ill after the bad food choices you made. But also ashamed and disappointed on yourself. This creates a negative circle and probably also yo-yo dieting, because you want to be “good” and be healthy.
As a Health Coach and woman, I’ve come to realize the importance of a holistic approach to the topic, and with most things by the way. I like to describe it as if I “google earth” the situation because it’s not only one thing that leads to another but rather different factors:
1. Unhealthy food. You’re used to eat unhealthy food, so the brain and the body craves it and you’re used to experience comfort from sugar rushes. It’s not only about character but also about this chemical reaction that the brain has got used too.
2. You’re eating to sooth your emotions or to reward yourself. This happens especially in the evening, and especially if you didn’t eat properly during the day.
3. You’re too stressed, physical and/or emotionally, which makes it more difficult to make healthy and mindful food choices.
4. You’re too tired. All mums probably know what I’m talking about, and busy women as well! When you’re tired, the body may crave to get something to quickly pick up the energy level.
Learn to understand your triggers
When you start to pay attention to your own behavior and be aware of your choices, you’ll also have the opportunity to take responsibility for yourself and do what is truly good for you.
What is your weakness, why are you eating with your emotions, instead of with your physical hunger? Ask yourself “why” several times and imagine you have the desire to dig deep!
When you get to the root, and accept it, you’ll feel at ease, in Shaa Allah! Then when that’s in place, you can start to make mindful choices that are nourishing you instead.
When you know what triggers your emotional eating habits, you can also do what you can to avoid them, bi’thnillah.
Is it your relationship to your husband, your relationship with people and family that’s the real issue? Or are you too tired? Or have you been eating only sugar alike food lately, like too much rice, bread, couscous, chocolate, white flour food and sugar with tea? Check in with yourself to find out.
Replace with good habits
You need to make an action plan and be prepared. Knowing your triggers, how can you prepare yourself to battle the situation successfully instead of giving in to destructive actions?
If you’re an “ice cream monster”, like I was for example, can you have bananas frozen in the freezer and make your own healthy ice cream? Can you remind yourself more often to make wudoo and pray two rakaahs instead, and thanks to this calm down and change focus?
Tips for healthy eating habits and reduced emotional eating
You can re-train your brain and behavior to reduce and get out of emotional eating, bi’thnillah. It can be possible!
First you need to realize the problem. We should be a slave of Allah SWT, not a slave of food. You don’t necessarily need to be overweight to have problems with emotional eating.
Then you need to make the decision that you want to change. A strong will is surely important, another factor is the external support. Ask for help from your family, a dear sister or anyone who you feel is of support to you. Please join our closed FB group of energized women who all want to be fit and energized, and who like to achieve a healthy relationship to food.
9 steps to get balanced and healthy
1. Count to 20 before you start to eat something. Are you physically hungry, or are you grabbing something to quit any emotions? If you’re not actually hungry, but “just in the mood for something”, find out what the emotions are trying to tell you. What is the body trying to tell you? What may cause those emotions? Face the emotions, deal with it.
2. Have only healthy food available and at home. Reach out for real food. When you start to eat real and nutritious food, you’ll gradually strengthen the positive need for proper food instead of junk food.
3. Eat regularly like every 3-4 hours. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. And eventually two snacks too, one between breakfast and lunch and the other between lunch and dinner.
4. Eat with awareness. Remove distractions from any TV or other devices. Make each meal a time to relax with healthy food, a time to reflect or talk to the one you share the meal with.
5. Sit down when you eat and drink.
6. Avoid sugar kicks and eat calming, energizing food instead. White stuff such as white flour items, rice, pasta, ice cream will make your blood sugar go quickly up and fast down. Instead, choose carbohydrates from beans, quinoa, and other whole grains. Eat more vegetables, eat sufficient amounts of protein and good type of fat, which will nourish and build your body.
7. Be physically active! You’ll not want to eat food that makes you lethargic, bloated and tired, bi’thnillah. Physical exercise is also the best way to reduce anxiety and suppressed emotions while exercise also can boost your self esteem, self love and inner strength.
8. Nourish your relationships, both with yourself and others, and be positive. Maybe you don’t actually want that chocolate bar, instead you need a big warm hug from your mum or spouse.
9. Ask for help. You’re not weak, you’re already fantastic the way you are, but sometimes we just need a kick in the butt to move on in the right direction! Perhaps online coaching would be something for you.