Despite being fit and active throughout my twenties, I never looked it. I’ve battled with my weight for as long as I can remember and have never felt comfortable in my own skin. I’ve yo-yo dieted and tried every fad that has come out to lose weight, only to pile it all back on afterwards. Having overhauled my entire lifestyle recently, losing over 30 kilograms in the process, I now realise why nothing was ever successful. I was an emotional eater who lacked knowledge about how to fuel my body not my mind and I was always looking for a quick fix solution.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating isn’t just turning to food when you’re experiencing negative emotions, it also includes turning to food at times of positive emotions as a reward or even just out of boredom. Having little or no self control around food and eating past the point of satiety is another trait of emotional eating. This is the category I’ve fallen in to in the past.
If you can identify with any of these then you may be an emotional eater:
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not physically hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better as a means to calm or soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, mad, bored or anxious?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
How is it best managed to align with our health and fitness goals?
Identifying a problematic behaviour is the first step to managing emotional eating. Think about the times you have turned to food and ask yourself the following questions.
Where were you? Who were you with? What was the occasion? How were you feeling emotionally?
Try to pinpoint a pattern and do whatever it takes to prevent yourself from being in that situation again. Find alternative ways to occupy your mind. For example go to the gym, read a book or magazine, vacuum or do a load of washing.
How can I make long term changes?
In my own experience attempting to just ‘flick a switch’ and change doesn’t work. We need to make gradual changes so they are sustainable long term. The first step for me was educating myself on nutrition. I researched everything I possibly could. Firstly, I started by learning about macro-nutrients and what the breakdown of our calories does in terms of fueling our bodies.
Macro-nutrients are the nutrients our bodies require in large amounts to provide the energy we need to carry out our daily activities. They include protein, carbohydrates and fats. The easiest way for me to explain the importance of balanced macro-nutrients is this. If someone’s calorie goal for the day is 2000 and to get there they ate only Tim-Tams, they wouldn’t be providing their body with well balanced macro-nutrients. They’d be over consuming carbohydrates and fats and getting no where near enough protein. This is often the case with many pre-packaged or take-away foods.
The next step was starting to track everything I was eating. It wasn’t long before I realised I was consuming way more than I should be and my macros were all over the place. I read about LCHF (low carb, high fat), paleo, carb cycling, clean eating, wholefoods and anything else I possibly could to better equip myself. Once I had some knowledge, I started to implement the following changes.
- increasing my daily water intake – often we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty and generally most people don’t consume enough water.
- tracking my food intake – not just calories but also the macros.
- buying kitchen scales and actually measuring my food – I was absolutely gob smacked to see that in some instances I was having three to four times more than a standard serving size.
- eating smaller meals more often – when we reach a ravenous hunger it’s much easier to over-eat. This also eliminated boredom eating as I was eating every two to three hours anyhow and didn’t have the time in between meals to want to snack.
- preparing my meals in advance so I always had a healthy, balanced meals ready to go. It’s much quicker to go to the fridge than to hit the drive through at Maccas or KFC.
- making my own ‘healthy’ versions of foods I enjoy – substituting thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini for pasta sheets in lasagna or making cauliflower pizza bases. That way even if I ate a little more than I should it’s not as calorie dense as the regular version.
- having healthy treats or snacks ready for those ‘I’m bored, I’ll just see what’s in the fridge’ moments – protein balls, carrot sticks, clean slices/brownies/cakes and fruit.
- reducing my alcohol consumption – I have found that as soon as alcohol is around I over-eat, so this one was a no-brainer. In addition alcohol has no nutritional benefits.
- supplementing my protein intake as I wasn’t getting anywhere near enough from food (most people aren’t) – protein also helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer.
These changes have just become second nature to me now and are part of my every day lifestyle. I don’t think I’m fully reformed, but I’m learning to better manage my emotional eating and fuel my body, not my mind.
If you’re wanting to make a similar lifestyle change and take control of your emotional eating I can give you this advice.
- Know your triggers and think of ways to best manage them prior to a binge.
- Fuel your body, not your mind – if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple or some carrot sticks, you’re not actually hungry!
- Write down your goals – and make sure you’re using the ‘SMART’ method for goal setting.
- Research, learn and ask questions – education is power!
- Get professional help – but make sure they’re qualified to be giving the advice! If you were going for open heart surgery you’d want the best surgeon. It’s no different with other aspects of your health and fitness. Check qualifications and look for past experience.
- Lastly, NEVER GIVE UP! We all have setbacks, injuries and off days, it’s part of being human. It’s just a matter of getting back on that horse!