The Up and Down Roller Coaster: Exiting the Ride of Emotional Eating

Exit strategies to emotional eating

In our previous blog posts, you became more familiar with your emotional relationship with food. I am sure you find yourself wondering “What’s next?” I am delighted to share with you healthier ways to feed this emotional hunger that will not sabotage your weight-loss efforts! I am going to call them EXITS.

Walking through these exit doors will feel uncomfortable at first. Let’s face it, breaking off your emotional relationship with food is not easy. You have been together a long time. However, because your weight matters, the break-up is necessary, and I am glad I am here to walk you through it.

Exit no. 1: Stop, Drop and Roll!

Yes, we were all trained for this response if we ever found ourselves caught on fire. Between you and me, it seems we experience emotional hunger much more than we experience our clothes catching fire. Happily though, we can apply the same procedure:

Stop: Take a few minutes to assess if you are really physically hungry? If not, proceed to the next step.

Drop: Drop whatever comfort food that is in your hand before you put it into your mouth.

Roll: Roll yourself (or walk) away from the comfort food to and try another exit.

Exit no. 2: Mindfulness Strategies: Learning to be present in the moment and to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

There is a reason there is a lot of buzz about mindfulness these days. The word is getting out that mindfulness strategies can help up with a myriad of situations in our life. Research suggests and supports that mindfulness skills effectively decreases binge eating and emotional eating.

Mindfulness techniques help us tolerate stress instead of avoiding it with comfort food. I would like to suggest two mindfulness exits you can start using today.

  • First, calming breath. We are so busy these days that we do not even take the time to breathe correctly and effectively. This is one of the first mindfulness tools I teach my patients. When hit with an emotional eating urge, take the time to simply take a calming and deep breath. If you can, close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. I encourage my patients to think of “slowly blowing bubbles” as they exhale. It’s amazing how simply taking three calming breaths can help clear your thoughts, calm your emotions and bring clarity to WHY you want to eat.
  • Second, take time to write out your feelings. I encourage my patients to not only keep a food journal, but to keep a daily feelings journal to write about their thoughts and feelings. Writing in a journal can help you understand why you are seeking food for comfort. It will help you think about your situation in a more realistic way. Writing helps you name the feelings and also provides a healthy expression of them.
Exit no. 3: Distraction Techniques

Some of you might be wondering if distraction is the exact opposite of mindfulness. It is not. If you use this exit properly, you are strategically being mindful about diverting your attention away from an emotional situation to a more neutral activity. Emotional eating urges will go away if you can use healthy distraction. You must use the distraction technique before you start eating.

Some suggested distractions can be knitting, adult coloring books, crafting, social media, puzzles, watching a movie, looking at pictures on your phone, computer games, reading, gardening, listening to music, etc. The list goes on. The key is to find something you enjoy to do. I encourage my patients to create a “distractions box” so they have distraction tools ready to use when the strong emotional eating urges hit.

Exit no. 4: Non-food soothing techniques.

I mentioned in my previous blog post that your need to soothe is worth so much more than the band-aide of comfort food. There are other ways to unwind and relax that are not food. Take a bath, light a candle, get a massage, read a good book, knit or go for a walk. These are just a few suggestions. What are some ways you could soothe yourself without food?

Exit no. 5: Reach out for SUPPORT

Seek fun, comfort and celebration with people — and not food. Surround yourself with people who build you up and encourage you. You must have and use your support team on a regular basis.

Many of you can find that from an organization, or by regularly attending a support group to help you with managing your weight. If you do not, see if there are any support groups in your community. I facilitate weekly support groups, and find that when people can talk with others who are in the same situation and understand how they feel, this can curb emotional eating. The people who attend my support group now have a safe place to talk about their feelings instead of numbing them with food.

Finally, seek out behavioral health counseling. Professional counseling can help you dig deeper in understanding your emotional relationship with food!

The up and down roller coaster of emotional eating can sabotage your wellness journey if you let it. However, after reading this series, I hope you have learned not only how to identify your emotional eating patterns but healthier ways to replace them!

About the Author:

lora grabow headshotLora Grabow, LMSW, is a speaker, teacher and counselor who partners with medical providers and educational professionals to empower bariatric patients to holistically change their lives. She has worked in bariatric medicine for the past 12 years providing patients the “headwork tools” they need to establish a healthy relationship with food. To learn more about Ms. Grabow, visit her Web site at www.LoraGrabow.com.

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