You know how in every romantic comedy ever, the character who gets dumped ends up in sweatpants stuffing their face with pizza, popcorn, and a tub of ice cream?
Well, that’s one example of emotional eating. It’s hard to deny how adorable it is dressed up in its rom-com persona, but the real-life version of this disorder is far more complex (and sadly, not as cute).
The fact is, emotional eating goes deeper than straight-up lack of self-control or sudden heartbreak. It’s often a signal that some serious feelings are hiding beneath the surface and need our attention—eating becomes a pleasurable distraction from the chronic pain.
More people use food as a coping mechanism than you might think, so go easy on yourself if you’re a candidate. Here are five ways to break the habit if you find yourself digging in too deep:
1. Check Yo’Self Before You Treat Yo’Self
Unconscious eating, or eating mindlessly, is the most classic form of emotional eating, and thankfully it’s the simplest to defeat. When you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to get lost in a cheesy bowl of Cheetos.
But if you take half-a-second to ask yourself if you’re starving (or just bored), you might find it easier to say no to those pesky treats that have been staring you down for the last 20 minutes.
2. Reward Yourself Another Way
Most of us have been conditioned to reward hard work with food. (Remember all those post-soccer ice cream and pizza parties as a kid?)
When food gets used as a reward, we develop an emotional attachment to it. It’s a tough nut to crack, but the habit can be broken by slowly replacing food-rewards with other feel-good activities like foot rubs or baths! If it’s too tough to escape the desire for food rewards, start slow by replacing sweet rewards with healthier options—instead of ice cream, reward yourself with a heart-healthy smoothie!
3. Name The Pain
Studies have shown that just naming your painful feelings lessens the impact they have on you. That’s pretty huge, considering we all think food is going to have the same effect (it doesn’t).
While food can up the opioids in your brain to make you feel good temporarily (getting real science-y here), it can’t target the exact hurt you’re feeling to make it better. But naming what hurts can! So next time you feel bummed, try saying, “I’m feeling [hurt/sad/angry]” out loud. It’s the first major step toward natural relief and might inspire you to get the support you deserve!
4. Send Your Bod Some Love
It’s the most ironic of ironies, but emotional eating is often a result of people hating their bodies. Tragically, the shame that many people feel about their bodies drives them to either ‘punish’ their bodies with excess food or to use food as a distraction from their self-loathing.
The best cure is to show yourself some love! Step up to the mirror and thank that body of yours for doing its best (because a body’s job is to keep you alive—if it’s doing that, it’s doing its best). Tell it that you’ll always be there to support it, too, because you love it oh so very much.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it the first time—if you repeat this sentiment enough, you’ll eventually start to feel it (and so will your body). Trust me on this one.
5. Get Some Sleep
This one’s pretty self-explanatory but when you’re over-tired and over-worked, your brain goes haywire. You start craving food when you’re not hungry, and many of those cravings will be for sugar, which your body knows are the quickest fix for ‘the sleepies.’
Stress has a similar effect. The best way to avoid emotional eating due to sleep deprivation is to make sure you catch more ZZZs! Try to bring reading-before-bed into your repertoire to get you into the zone.
For more stories like this, check out 6 Ways I Taught My Lactose Intolerant Body To Love Dairy, as well as Are You Trypophobic? You’ll Find Out Shortly..