How To Stop Emotionally Eating

Have you ever thought you might be an emotional eater?

Emotional eating isn’t just when you’re laying in bed, eating food, and hating yourself. 

There’s so much more to emotional eating that we often miss. And that, my friend, is what I want to help you see today.

How To Stop Emotionally Eating

Before you can stop emotionally eating, we need to define what “emotional eating” really means. We tend to throw it around like we all agree on what it is. Instead, let’s get really clear on the definition first…

Defining Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is defined as eating in response to a positive or negative emotion.

The truth is everyone is an emotional eater. We all have our favorite comfort food, stress eat, binge eat, and even mindlessly eat.

I know very few people who don’t ever eat as an emotional response.

Even I emotionally eat sometimes, but now that I know what it is, I have a better idea of how to control it.

Let’s take a look at what it looks like…

What Emotional Eating Looks Like

There are four main times we tend to emotionally eat…

1. Beating Yourself Up And Eating To Feel Better

The first is when you’re just going through life beating yourself up.

You tend to feel terrible, so you’re eating to try to make yourself feel better. 

You’re telling yourself “I’m not good enough,” and so in order to ease the pain, you eat. 

2. Being Apathetic About Your Life And Eating To Dull The Discomfort

The second way you emotionally eat is when you ignore how unhappy you are in your life. 

You think “this is just the way life is” and you don’t care enough to do something about it, so you eat to make your life seem better. 

You’re still eating to feel better just like you were in the first point, you’re just not beating yourself up as much in this one.

3. Using Food As A Reward

The third way that people emotionally eat, and the one I see the most, is people turning to food to reward themselves for doing a good job or to feel better after hearing bad news. 

For example, you get a promotion or a raise (or some other amazing news) and you use food as a reward to celebrate this event and eat something like ice cream or another unhealthy food when you are trying to lose weight. You end up feeling worse because it isn’t something you planned for.

I’m not saying this to keep you from experiencing joy or to remove pleasure from your life for what you’ve done, instead, I want to show you the reward is actually the accomplishment itself. 

When you achieve something, that is the reward. Your accomplishment is a reward. You don’t need food to reward yourself for the accomplishment.

This may sound extreme but it’s kind of extreme how we use sugar and alcohol as rewards, if you think about it.

Now, I’m the first to say “yes” to go celebrate someone. I don’t get all preachy and weird about it, and you don’t need to do that either.

It’s just good to know, right? That you can feel accomplished in the achievement. You don’t need to put something external into your body to feel like you did a good job.

People do this in the opposite way, too, whenever they get bad news.

When you hear bad news, do you use food to feel better?

Say, you find out you didn’t get the promotion or that your husband forgot to do something… how do you react?

Often, we want to use food to feel better when we hear bad news (because your brain wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure).

Both of these are the same type of emotional eating, in both instances you’re emotional eating. 

4. Eating To Feel Connected

The last way I see people emotional eating is thinking that eating is how you connect with people. 

For example, going to a party and immediately needing to eat to feel like you’re having a good time. Or thinking your connection to family and friends around the holidays is actually through the food. 

If you’re only able to enjoy yourself with people because of the food itself, then you’ve got a problem. There is not enough good going on in your life for you to just be out and enjoy yourself and enjoy the company of the people that you’re with. 

In this situation, if you’re not eating at the party, you’re thinking horrible thoughts about yourself and the others you’re with. The food is the only thing that makes it worth it. This is a huge issue because you’re just judging yourself and the company you’re with. 

When food is the connector, you don’t really care as much about the people you’re with or want to be where you’re at. You want to eat. 

I think that this is the most subtle form of emotional eating. And we’ve normalized it and even made it seem like a good thing.

It’s okay to go to places and parties and eat and enjoy the food, but it should never be the only reason you’re there. 

Instead, focus on the people. Get to know them. Talk to them. Change your thoughts about them, so you’re seeking to understand them at the deepest level from a place of curiosity and connection.

It’s important to see where this is a problem in your life so you can decide when and how you want to remove it. 

People are the main attraction, not food.

The Two Problems With Emotional Eating

Now, that you know the four main ways people emotionally eat, I want to share with you what the problem is with emotional eating.

1. We Aren’t Aware We’re Doing It

The biggest problem is that we aren’t even aware we’re emotionally eating. 

So what I want you to do, is bring attention to a time during the day when you’re emotionally eating.

Unless you’re planning your meals out, you will be emotionally eating at some time during the day, so just notice when you’re doing it.

Awareness is paying attention. It’s simple, but not as easy as it sounds. This awareness is the beginning of changing how you eat (and live).

2. We’re Doing it To Seek Comfort (And That Means You Have To Overcome Your Brain)

After you‘ve become aware that you’re emotionally eating, actually stopping is really hard.

The main reason stopping emotional eating is hard is because we’re doing it to seek comfort. 

Your brain wants to seek comfort, avoid pain, and conserve energy (this is the Motivational Triad).

Stopping emotional eating, means you’re left with your emotions. And that my friend, can feel very scary at first (especially if you don’t have a life coach).

This is important to know, because as far as goal setting and making changes in your life, you need to be okay with feeling uncomfortable. 

So what is the solution to emotional eating? Awareness and conscious eating…

Solution: Awareness 

The first step to overcoming emotional eating is awareness.

Identify you’re emotionally eating. Bring attention to it. Call it “emotional eating.”

Any time you eat in response to your emotions, you’re emotional eating. It’s not a response to genuine hunger but rather a response to an emotion caused by your thinking. You feel bored, tired, drained, stressed, frustrated, sad, mad, apathetic, disappointed, worried…. so you eat. This is emotional eating.

Then there’s this quote (a personal favorite of mine): “Snacking is always an emotional event.” I’m not sure who said this quote, but it really nails it on the head.

Remember the definition of emotional eating: it’s eating in response to your emotions.

Pay attention to your eating habits.

When are you eating?
Why are you eating?
How much are you eating?
How do you feel right before you eat?

I find that people tend to be afraid to identify when they’re emotionally eating. 

You don’t have to be afraid to pay attention. You’re only afraid because of what you’ll make it mean. Instead, you don’t have to hate yourself for what you find. You can be curious and love yourself, even if you want to change.

You’re in charge of your life. Always.

Becoming A Conscious Eater

In my podcast episode I Quit Drinking (and the correlating blog post, How To Drink Less Alcohol), I taught you how to become a Conscious Drinker. 

In this post, I want to teach you how to become a Conscious Eater.

The steps are strikingly similar to being a Conscious Drinker because eating and drinking are so similar, and how you do them (when you do or don’t take the action of eating or drinking) is entirely based on your brain.

Here are the steps to become a Conscious Eater:

  1. Create a Food Plan (there’s more on this in Grow You, where I give you an entire course on How To Change Your Eating Habits Forever).
  2. Follow your plan no matter what.
  3. Allow urges without responding to them.

Step one means you plan your meals out ahead of time. It has to be at least 24 hours in advance.

You get to plan out all your meals, snacks, and any particular “temptations” you have such as sugar or flour foods. You get to choose what you’re eating. You can choose healthy snacks or unhealthy snacks depending on your goals. The important thing is to plan ahead. Are your goals focused on weight loss? Do you want to live a healthy lifestyle?

Step two is you actually stick to your plan. You eat until you’re satisfied, but not completely full. You never eat based on what you feel like in the moment. Instead, you stick to your plan, which is what you created from your prefrontal cortex the day before).

Step three is allowing the urges when they come up. What happens when you follow a Food Plan and you don’t go off plan, you’re left with the discomfort of you life. You’re left with your emotions. It’s hard because you’re not using anything external to soften how you feel. This is actually how you get stronger and what I teach in Grow You.

No matter what you’re eating, you have to plan. When you plan ahead and follow through with it, you can stop emotionally eating.

Why This Works

If you write down what you’re going to eat and plan it out ahead of time, you can always align your plan with your best self. 

You never have to give in to your primitive brain. It’s always seeking pleasure for you. It wants you to eat good food to feel better. You never have to do this. You’re in control of what you eat. 

You can change the conversation in your head and move forward from having food as a crutch. 

The emotions you experience through the process will show you the truth about your life. What are you really thinking and feeling when you want food?

You have the power over whether you eat to feel better, or you resist those feelings and ignore them, or the third option you can process your feeling like you have chosen them, and you can stick to your plan.

It won’t be easy, but you can take control.

Do You Need To Stop Emotional Eating? 

The short answer is no. You don’t have to stop emotionally eating. You don’t have to do any of this at all. The choice is yours.

But this is the next level of growth if you choose to do it. 

You’ll learn how to challenge yourself, and rely on yourself for your own emotional well being instead of relying on food. 

Once you’ve taken control of your emotional well being, you’re able to achieve anything. 

What’s On The Other Side Of Stopping Emotional Eating

When you stop emotional eating, you become someone who doesn’t need to rely on food anymore. 

You can experience your life without the false pleasures covering up the reality of what’s going on. 

You’ll experience negative emotions and discomfort at first when you choose to do this, but that’s okay! Choose to feel that discomfort and be okay with it. If you never learn to be okay with those negative emotions, you’ll continue to seek that eating to counteract those emotions. 

When you make those choices you’ll experience a lot of things: 

  • Your brain can go wild and judge you.
  • You may feel extremely restless.
  • You may want a “break” from these feelings and want to eat.

Instead, choose to be okay with these hard things. Allow those difficult emotions as if you have chosen to it. This will make those emotions pass faster than just “eating them away.” 

Instead of using food as a crutch, face the truth about your life when you experience these emotions. These emotions will be a catalyst for true change. 

You can become someone new and change your life. 

You can view food as what it’s actually intended to be: fuel for your life. 

Plan your food ahead of time so you can control what you’re doing with your life. You don’t need to beat yourself up, and you also don’t need to use food to make yourself feel better. Reduce your stress about eating and food. You can always seek out a mental health professional or medical advice for more help with this.

You can make yourself feel better without any resistance to those negative emotions. 

Plan your meals out at least a day ahead of time so you’re not eating in response to emotions. You’re planning from your highest self, and your future self with thank you when she starts to feel those emotions. 

I’ve recently done this in my own life. 

My Experience With Emotional Eating 

I’m SUCH an emotional eater. My main guilty pleasures are snacking and sugar. Alcohol could have been a hard for me, but I didn’t quite rely on it like I do with sweets and snacks. I stopped drinking about a year ago, but I didn’t have a problem with it in the traditional sense, but I believed that my highest self was not a drinker, so I quit.

When I quit drinking I would remember that I could start whenever I want to. It was my choice and my life, but I just didn’t want to. And I was in control over that. I still really loved sweets. Recently, I’ve cut back a lot on sweets and no alcohol and that’s what’s helped me to drop that last ten pounds. I didn’t read every label and try to remove all the sugar from my life.

For me, it was specifically candy, Reese’s, Red Vines, chocolate and food like that. By removing those sweets and alcohol I feel a lot better, but it was really hard. It was a challenge for my own growth and I still had cravings, but I embraced that discomfort. 

The way you can allow discomfort in your own life, if you can get connected with your own body instead of your head. 

So many people are in their own head and they want to make that discomfort go away. But instead, you can address those things and say, “this is restlessness, I can do restlessness.” Recognize where it is in your body and how it feels and get connected with the emotional experience in your life. 

When you process your emotions like that instead of being up in your head, the negative emotion will pass so much more quickly than resisting it. 

Be present with those emotions and handle it. Where do you find you’re struggling with emotional eating? You have control.  

A Final Note

The key to emotional eating is to plan. This helps you use food to fuel your body and eat in a way that serves your best future self.