Have you ever turned towards food to cope with your feelings or relieve stress? Turning towards food and increasing your food intake in response to negative emotions can be described as emotional eating and stress eating. Why do we do this? Our brains see food as essential, rewarding, and pleasurable. Eating sugars and fats literally releases opioids in our brains. Opioids are the active ingredients in many drugs that result in a calming, soothing, stabilizing effect. Here are some tips on what to do when you want to eat your feelings.
Find other ways to reward and soothe yourself besides food and eating. I could provide you a list of other alternatives but it is more fruitful if you develop your own alternatives- How can you address your feelings and emotions without using food? How can you soothe yourself in times of stress without using food? How can you reward yourself for your accomplishments and achievements in ways that do not include food?
Identify triggers. Self-awareness around what triggers you to eat your feelings is invaluable. It gives you the opportunity to cope and plan ahead- to develop a plan in advance about how you will handle the situations, experiences, emotions, sensations, and people that trigger you to eat your feelings. Take some time to self reflect- identify what pulls you to self-soothe with food (you can also google common triggers to emotional eating and determine which ones are true for you). Create a plan about how you will respond when you are feeling activated or triggered.
Tolerate difficult feelings. Move towards, not away from difficult emotions. When you turn towards food to deal with stress and emotions, you are avoiding a much needed conversation with yourself. Treat those difficult feelings like you would if your best friend walked into your house in distress. Would you tell them to shut up and get out? Would you ignore them? Would you shut the door on them? No. Often, that is what we do with difficult feelings- we kick them out, ignore them, or try to fight with them. Instead, get curious and compassionate with difficult feelings. Ask them, “What do you want me to know?” “What do you want to tell me?” “What do you need from me right now?” “What can I do to help you?” Literally, talk to your feelings like they are a loved one in distress- validate their feelings, don’t minimize or dismiss them, respond with compassion not judgment, and be gentle not critical.
Reach out to someone instead of food. Call, text, or message a loved one. Write and send a letter or card to someone. Use a Hotline. Go to a Meetup. Visit a furry friend. Go get yourself a cup of tea and start small talk with the barista or another customer. Listen to a podcast- something about just hearing another person’s voice can bring comfort.
Rest. Make sure you are getting enough sleep because getting an adequate amount of sleep reduces cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol levels increase your appetite for foods high in fat, sugar, or both. This is because these foods release opioids and serotonin in our brains which counteracts feelings associated with stress and discomfort.