Stress eating is quite possibly the number one issue people have to contend with when trying to lose fat. The common message out there is to just get through it, be strong, have willpower. But there’s no strategy offered, no how or why, and one directive to every person in society isn’t the way to approach this. You need options and strategies to handle these moments beyond “just do it.” Then once you know, it’s on you to decide to use them, or not.
Last week I received an email from a client who has lost a lot of weight but is now struggling in maintenance with stress and emotional eating. Stress comes and goes and it’s not uncommon for this to happen, even if you’ve been successful with fat loss before and even if you’re working with a professional.
The Question –
“I have a serious question for you about emotional eating. Is it possible to overcome junk food stress/emotional eating? Is it something we can manage?
My Response –
Yes, it’s possible to overcome junk food stress/emotional eating. When you eat junk food (or anything!) due to stress what you’re really looking for is to feel better; to have a good feeling replace the crappy feeling.
The problem is that eating junk as an escape mechanism doesn’t work. It NEVER works. What you have to do is learn to sit with the emotion when it becomes uncomfortable. You have to force yourself to feel the bad feelings, acknowledge them and sit with them without acting out (eating).
Here’s an analogy – you reach into your freezer and grab an ice cube and hold onto it with a tight grip. When you hold onto that ice cube it’s going to feel very uncomfortable. You’re going to want to drop the ice cube because it’s too cold to hold onto. But the longer you hold onto it, the ice cube will eventually melt and as it does, the uncomfortable cold and the need to act (dropping the ice cube) subsides.
That’s how it is when you sit with your emotions when you want to escape through food. You have to be able to practice telling yourself that “I feel crappy right now and here is the reason why and I’m just going to feel it. I’m not going to eat. I’m just going to feel this feeling.”
Eventually the intensity of that emotion will lessen (just as the ice cube melted) and with it, the intensity of the need to relieve that emotion with food will follow.
This practice will help you shift to a new type of thought or action instead of eating because you’ll recognize that eating your emotions doesn’t work and that it will never work. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. But it does take a lot of diligent practice.
This strategy was inspired by one of my current clients who has used this technique with success. It may not work for everyone, but I want you to give it a try. You can even just get started by setting a timer for 10 minutes or by taking an ice cube out of your freezer and holding it until it melts. Just sit with those uncomfortable feelings for that short time, and reassess the urge to eat on a scale of 1-10 once the time has passed. Is it as intense? How much did it decrease? How much more might it decrease with another 5 minutes? Keep practicing every time it happens.
Lastly, I need your help. As I said, this approach may not work for everyone, so I want to hear from anyone struggling with this same issue or who has been successful with it. What have you found that works for you? Post it here and let’s get as many suggestions as possible. Let’s stop being held hostage to emotional eating and arm ourselves with the tools to learn to stop. You never know, something you read or share may end up being just the “Aha!” you or someone else needs to conquer this once and for all.