I wish this question on how to stop emotional eating was asked more frequently. However, in my practice I’m often the one asking my clients this question. The truth is, there are so many specific reasons why people engage in these behaviors. In my personal and professional experience, I’ve seen reasons such as boredom, comfort, anxiety, fear, sadness, loneliness and many more. Despite the differences in these “reasons,” they all have something in common. They are all uncomfortable emotions that many of us are not taught to sit with and feel. That is where food comes in.
Think back to a time when you were little, ideally between the ages of 4-8 years old. Does a particularly challenging memory come to mind? Maybe there was a situation that was painful and instead of being held by your caretaker, maybe you were scolded, shamed or even punished. The thing is, most of us where never really taught how to process the emotions. Sure happiness and joy were condoned, but what about anger? Were you encouraged to express it in a healthy way? Were you loved in the face of it? Most likely you were not. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, in my house growing up anger wasn’t tolerated. I would get punished or sent to my room if I was angry. That lead to me suppressing my anger because I wanted to be loved and accepted by my parents. If anger equaled rejection and no love, and I wanted love, then I needed to push down the thing that was preventing me from being love. I learned to push down my anger.
This adaptive phenomenon is outrageously prevalent. This is why substance abuse issues, emotional eating, and other addictions are so common. As the brilliant trauma expert Dr. Gabor Mate says, “it’s not why the addiction, it’s why the pain.” People are not possessing and expressing their emotions, they are trying to numb them out. Just like they were taught when they were little kids. It’s heartbreaking and it’s true. If we can learn (and practice) connecting with our emotions and feeling them fully, we no longer need the substances, food or other addictive behaviors to help numb them out.
Here are 6 steps to stop emotionally eating. If you practice these steps on a regular basis, not only will you feel much better, but your body will change and so will your entire life. Mine did.
This practice changed my life, and I really hope it positively impacts yours. I would love to hear what you got from it and how it has impacted your relationship with food.