So many of us comfort eat, but when it impacts your life in a negative way it may well be time to make a change. Step away from the pizza and read these practical tips to help you make the distinction between eating to sate your appetite or merely having food to comfort yourself – Dr Sonia Greenidge tells you how…
Physical hunger v. emotional hunger
Before you eat, ask yourself ‘how physically hungry am I right now?’ Learn what hunger and fullness feel like. physical hunger is felt in the stomach but emotional hunger in the mouth, with cravings for specific foods. physical hunger usually comes on gradually; emotional hunger can strike suddenly as a result of an external or internal trigger. physical hunger means you stop eating when full; emotional hunger can mean you keep eating until way past fullness as your aim is to deal with emotions, and food is not a solution. rate hunger/ fullness on a scale of 1 to 10; where 1 is very hungry and 10 very full. anything above a five and you’re probably not physically hungry. By doing this you’ll be better equipped to decrease bouts of feeding emotional hunger with food.
Sit with your emotions
To deal with the emotions that lead to emotional eating, you first need to be able to recognise them. If you rate your hunger/fullness and it’s as high as an eight, your emotional eating alarm bell should ring. Shut your eyes, breathe calmly, scan your body for emotion. Stress in your shoulders? Sadness in your heart? anxiety in your tummy? once you’ve identified it, it will be easier to start dealing with it without food. Next, you need to learn to sit with it and give it the space it needs instead of trying to push it away. one way to do this is be curious about what you feel. Let’s say it’s anxiety. Shut your eyes and imagine it. are there butterflies flitting about? or a grey cloud hovering? open your eyes and imagine the object that represents the emotion in front of you. Look at its form, size, colour. It can’t hurt you. When you’re familiar with it, shut your eyes, put it back where you found it. you’re accepting this is your experience now rather than rejecting it, ignoring it or judging yourself for it.
Discover your triggers
Saying ‘I feel emotion A right now because…’ will help you understand what triggers emotions. For example, ‘I feel sad right now because I wasn’t understood’ or ‘I feel angry right now because I was treated unfairly’. as soon as you understand the triggers, think of ways to deal with the situations that led to the emotions that caused them. perhaps your anger would be eased by speaking to the person you feel has treated you unfairly, expressing how you feel and why. If someone else was dealing with this emotion what would you do? give them a hug, perhaps? Maybe that’s what you need. Do some- thing nice for yourself. have a bath, book a massage, turn your mobile off, have ‘me’ time. Deal with the emotional hunger without responding with food.
Challenge your behaviour
Place post-its where you keep food at home or at work can help you to keep a check on your reason for eating. Write questions such as ‘am I physically hungry?’ or ‘Did something happen to make me sad/angry/anxious?’ If you’re aware you’re about to respond to emotional hunger you can opt to have a glass of water, get some fresh air, speak to someone about what happened or write down how you feel. Just a sentence in a journal can be a great way to express the emotions you’re feeling so they are not, quite literally, eating away at you.
When you are about to reach for a snack, do a quick cost-benefit analysis in your head. What are the short-term gains and losses from indulging, and what are the long-term ones? If you need more support, working with a therapist can help you become familiar with your emotions, more accepting of them, to recognise your triggers and to seek alternatives to food.