There’s something we’ve noticed a lot of the time when people have trouble with emotional eating or stress eating: Eating is the only thing they do to treat themselves.
Problems, Stress, or Emotion
When people try to work with emotional eating, they assume that the treats they eat are the problem. They remove treats and then try to white-knuckle not eating them when they have stressful or emotional days. Eventually, something happens, and they can’t hold on any longer — they break down and have even more treats. Then they feel terrible.
Or, sometimes they assume that their emotions are the problem. It’s easy to think “If I didn’t have these emotions, I wouldn’t have an issue!” The assumption is that what you need is a life without problems or stress. The only problem here is that most of the clients we see actually have really stressful lives. They have important jobs or families or even charities they sit on boards for, they have all of these big priorities in their lives, and they have to work with those things. And all of these important things in their lives have normal cycles of ups and downs. Sometimes they’re really stressful. Sometimes it’s really emotional.
Two Things We Need To Look At:
- You’re human. You’re going to have emotions. You’re going to have stress. We need to accept that that’s a normal and recurring part of life.
- We need to look at what is really effective self-care.
It’s About Choices
The goal isn’t to never have treats again. We aren’t even saying that you can never soothe yourself with food again. The goal, simply, is flexibility. We want you to have more than one option.
If the only thing you have to soothe yourself with is food, you’re going to gain weight.
So, what we really need to do is build a personal library of “real life treats.” We need to look at what actually makes us happy. It could be as simple as petting your dog or cat, listening to music, getting outside and going for a walk, reading, or going to a movie. These are all things that make us feel better, that don’t involve food.
The goal is to have more than one option. If you have a rough day and you’re used to going straight for food, you’re still going to have that habit. We just want to loosen that up. Maybe try going for a walk first, and then if you still want the food treat, then try that.
It’s About Self-Care
If you’re really feeling down, cookies probably sound awesome. But after you eat the cookies, you don’t actually feel any better. Likely you feel worse.
Food treats often do a really poor job for self-care.
Instead, you want to take a look at what is actually effective self-care for you. When you feel bad, what if you called a friend? What if you had some really good alone time? What if you meditated? What if you get a massage? Or watched your favorite funny movie?
There are things that you can do to take care of yourself that are going to do a much better job of taking care of you than food. You want to start putting together your personal list. You want to have options for things that are good for you.
It’s About Your Values
Lastly, it’s about what’s important to you in life. Make a list of things that matter to you, people who matter to you, and who you want to be about food and health.
If you want to be someone who has a reasonable, balanced, healthy relationship with food, what does that mean to you when you have a bad day? It might mean that sometimes you have food treats and other times you have real life treats. That sounds balanced and reasonable.
Ultimately, The Goal Is Flexibility
If your only answer is to eat food treats, that probably doesn’t fit your values and goals. We want you to have lots of options.
Most of the time, have treats when you want to have treats because it’s a special occasion. Have treats when you’re hanging out with your best friend. Or have treats just because, and have your favorite treat in the world. But have those treats intentionally, and enjoy them and feel good about them.
And when you have a stressful or emotional day, take a look at what self-care is going to be best for you.
By Josh Hillis
Author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday (2014), and Lean and Strong (upcoming 2019), for OnTarget Publications