Let me paint a picture for you. You’re exhausted and are leaving work late for the third time this week. You had a whirlwind day, didn’t have time to eat a decent meal, drank way too much coffee, had your buttons pushed during a team meeting (…again), and your “perfectionitis” was rearing its ugly head all day and that’s why you’re getting home late again. You’re feeling beaten, frustrated and like nothing is ever going to change.
After a day like this, you need relief. You need comfort. You need to feel like you’re in control again. Well, for many women who are seeking relief, they often turn to emotional eating. Technically, emotional eating is defined as an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions. It’s often done mindlessly and usually, makes the person feel even worse when it’s over. It’s fair to say that many women sometimes eat for emotional reasons. However, some women chronically use emotional eating as their only means of comfort and/or relief. This can be problematic as it can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, stress, and even depression.
After literally struggling for decades in my own life with chronic emotional eating, I’m prepared to share with you the top five reasons why I used to engage in emotional eating.
- Stop overextending yourself: Ugh. You know the routine. You’ve got way too many things to do and they’re all important. So, you overextend yourself by packing your “to-do” list solid all day or all week long! If this is done on a continual basis without taking the time to catch your breath, you will very likely feel fatigued, out of control, and frustrated. These are very undesirable emotions which often lead to emotional eating. A couple of ways to avoid overextending yourself is to take your “to-do” list and assign a priority to each of your tasks. Make a pact with yourself to only get the immediate tasks done right away and leave the rest for another time. Or, if all the tasks truly need to be done right away, consider soliciting the help of family or friends to help you. And, don’t forget, while you’re in the midst of checking off the items on your “to-do” list, be sure to take breaks to eat and drink so your energy levels and mood remain elevated.
- Identify your needs. So much emotional eating stems from not having our needs met. Often times my clients know that something is off, but they don’t know exactly what it is that causing the discomfort, so they eat. So, get clear on what your needs are. I realize this sounds easy, but it isn’t always. Once you’ve done that, figure out a way to have your needs met as often as possible even if it involves having some uncomfortable conversations with family or friends. Some negotiating may be needed, but it is possible to get what you need so that you don’t turn to food as a means of pacifying yourself.
- Be mindful of patterns/behaviors. Many of us have patterns and/or behaviors that lead us down unproductive and sometimes destructive paths in our lives. One of the ways to facilitate a healthy shift in these behaviors so we don’t turn to food is to become aware of the events that often precipitate these behaviors in the first place. This takes some detective work and patience, but it is possible to decipher this so that the pattern/behavior can be changed. The best way to do this is the next time the undesired pattern/behavior rears its head, take some time to analyze the day or recent events that led to the behavior in the first place. Then, see what you could do differently the next time so that you don’t experience the same outcome. This will likely require some tweaking along the way, but with patience, it is possible to change so that you can find new patterns/behaviors that make you feel empowered instead of defeated.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Often times we’re dissatisfied with our lives because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. This is a futile exercise and will never benefit us in any way. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re essentially saying that whatever it is that we currently have isn’t good enough. This will always make us feel joyless, dissatisfied, and will diminish our self-esteem and confidence. A few ways to overcome what I call “comparisonitis” is to remember that we are all unique and on our own paths. Instead of allowing someone else’s life experiences to measure our worth, we need to continually remind ourselves that we’re all on our own unique path. If we were all supposed to be the same, our creator would have made us that way. However, if we do desire a change in our lives, we can admire what others have in their lives and use it to motivate us instead of allowing it to discount what we currently have. Doing this will help eliminate the “not enough” feelings that often accompany “comparisonitis”.
- Stop trying to be perfect. Stop playing the old tape in your head that someday, if you try hard enough, your will reach perfection. Remind yourself daily that perfection doesn’t exist and that you’re a worthy, talented woman who is making an impact on the world despite her perceived imperfections. Identify where these thoughts originated from (usually early childhood) and start to break those beliefs down to make them more realistic. Also, recount all of the times in your life when you thought something you did wasn’t good enough and you agonized over it only to find out that it truly was enough. Learning to say “It’s good enough.” will go a long way in curtailing perfectionistic thinking.
I truly hope some of these suggestions are helpful. Please know that it is possible to heal from chronic emotional eating.
– Michelle VB