Do you comfort-eat? Or do you skip eating completely when you feel unhappy or are stressed? Both of these behaviours are connected with emotions, and we control them through our food.

My impression is that this is something a lot of people do – eat in a certain way or starve themselves due to their emotions. We all face bumps along the road in our lives – things go up and down, and when we’re in the depths, it’s easy to end up with destructive eating behaviours.

For some, there are other underlying issues that mean they end up in that situation. This can happen when people don’t have control over things in their lives and instead try to take control of something else: the FOOD they eat. It’s easy to turn to food at such times – we all have a relationship with food and for some it is the one comfort that is always available.

Take me, for example: I was unhappy with my life situation and made a lot of challenging demands on myself. I couldn’t control the situation, so I started controlling my food and exercise instead. A clear example: I had a big exam I was really stressed about and was putting a lot of pressure on myself. It sounds pretty illogical when I write it down like this, but my stress was based on the fact that I couldn’t know in advance that I would get everything right in the exam. Passing the exam wasn’t enough for me. I had to get a perfect score or else I was worthless. Instead of working on my thoughts and on being a bit kinder to myself, I imposed a strict controlling regime as to what I should and shouldn’t eat, what exercise I should do, how long I should exercise, etc. In other words, food and exercise became a punishment for the fact that I didn’t feel happy and because I was making unreasonable demands on myself.

This sort of situation may not be exactly what you’re going through, but I believe that the emotions involved are quite similar for many people. You ‘silence’ unpleasant emotions with the help of your eating behaviour. Then you feel bad because you ate/didn’t eat and you’re into a vicious circle.

What should you do to end a destructive eating behaviour? How do you stop your emotional eating?

I am not a psychologist or expert in any way, but I have had an emotional journey with food, and this is my story – and these are my best tips for you:

Tips to get yourself out of emotional eating

✅ First of all, it’s important to be aware of what the underlying cause of the behaviour is. Is it sorrow? A feeling of being inadequate? Or – as in my case – making excessive demands on yourself?

✅ Share your thoughts and feelings with others. The key for me was to start talking to a psychologist, an external person who didn’t judge me based on who I was but rather saw the whole picture objectively. I don’t think one and the same method is going to work for everybody – you have to find your way.

✅ Be kind to yourself – it’s important to understand that emotions and thoughts are always going to pop up. For example: ‘I feel sad today – I deserve a bit of chocolate.’ Or: ‘I ought not to eat that, but I can start afresh tomorrow.’ Those thoughts are always going to turn up in various forms – what we can do is act on the underlying emotions. What I mean is that thoughts come and go.

✅ Start eating with awareness. Ask yourself the question: How do I feel right now? Am I tired, sad, stressed …? Maybe food isn’t the solution – there are better ones. If you’re tired = rest; if you’re sad = talk to someone who makes you feel better; if you’re stressed = go for a walk.

✅ Replace words like ‘must’ and ‘should’ with want to. Instead of thinking: ‘I should exercise’, or ‘I must start eating better’, think: ‘I WANT TO exercise’ and ‘I WANT TO start eating better’.

✅ Then, when you’re aware of why you’re eating emotionally, it’s easier to work on the underlying problem and acquire some tools you can use when you end up in these situations. I think I always have an armoury of tools that I can tap into and use to help me in such situations.

✅ The most important thing of all to realise is that it takes TIME! You’re not going to change a behaviour overnight, but getting going and working on it is a good start. Be prepared for the fact that it can be tough – the insights you get are not always fun, but it’s brave to lay them bare and you’re the only person who can change things for yourself. You can get help, but you have to do the job yourself!

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