If you’ve ever indulged in comfort eating, you’ll recognise this routine:
Feel down – reach for biscuits/crisps/chocolate – briefly feel better – beat yourself up for lacking willpower – feel down – reach for another biscuit… etc.
But it is possible to banish the emotional eating habit. Here are five tips I share on my BodyMindsetTM course:
Before putting food in your mouth, ask yourself:
“What am I actually hungry for? Is it physical hunger? Or am I bored and wanting entertainment? Am I lonely and needing comfort? Am I anxious and looking for distraction?”
If you discover that your hunger isn’t physical, you have a choice. You can eat, or you can do something that satisfies your real need.
Emotional eating is automatic. By thinking about it, you turn it into a conscious act. Once it’s conscious, you have the ability to choose whether to eat that biscuit or not. You can ask yourself, “is this the best quality of food available to me?”
Remember, thinking about it gives you the choice.
2. Change the habit
For one week, eat everything – and I mean everything, even chocolate, a biscuit, crisps or an apple – sitting down at a table using crockery and cutlery.
That means no eating in front of the TV, or while preparing the kids’ lunches, or while sitting at your desk. And no matter how awkward it is to eat the food you crave in this way, just do it.
Again, this changes emotional eating from an automatic act to a conscious one – and then you can choose whether to give in to the impulse or not.
Before you eat, relax for a moment, focus your mind on your body and take 3 slow breaths. What emotions do you feel about eating this food? Pleasant anticipation? Guilt? Are you distracted?
Now really pay attention to the food. Notice the different colours. Can you smell the food? Is it appetising?
4. Eat mindfully
Be present and focus on being ‘in the moment’ as you eat. Chew slowly, concentrating on your experience of eating. Is the food hot or cold? How does it feel in your mouth? Is the texture crunchy, or hard, or creamy? Where in your mouth are the flavours bursting? Are they salty, sharp, sweet?
Put your cutlery down and chew and savour each mouthful for at least 30 seconds. Take two slow, deep breaths before you resume eating.
Stop now and then to check how satisfied you feel. Tune in to your body’s signals of fullness and stop eating before you feel completely full. If you carry on past this point, in a few minutes you may feel uncomfortably stuffed.
5. Evaluate and learn
After eating, reflect on your experience. Did you enjoy the food? How do you feel now? How are your mood and energy levels?
If you feel bad about having eaten, don’t beat yourself up, just note the feeling and remind yourself the next time you’re tempted to eat in for comfort.
Caroline Ferguson is a Mindset Mender and the creator of BodyMindset.