Eating my Emotions

Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭
edited November 2019 in AFS Family Corner

Whether you call it Stress Eating, Emotional Eating, Eating my Emotions or something else, this is a thread for me and you!  I have no problem getting in to exercise.  I can tell you all day long what I should eat and how much I should eat.  But as soon as I feel stressed, sad, angry, happy, fill-in-the-blank, all of that goes right out the window!  The urge to eat something salty, sweet, or comforting becomes something like a monster in me that all the reason in the world cannot control.  I have spent a lot of years beating myself up for this, but no more!  I decided that I'm going to trust the science behind this forum that says the social aspect can lend a lot of support, so let's fight this monster together!  How do you stop yourself from emotional eating?  How do you feel when you do overeat?  Share all the good, bad and the ugly and maybe we can learn to tame the monster in all of us.


  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin
    @Tricia Nault, this is great question. Thank you for sharing something so personal, it is something many of us struggle with (myself included). This is a great topic for our on-staff registered dietician to weigh in on. @Bella Diaz, what are your thoughts on the best way to view emotional eating and work through some of it's challenges? 

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Kim GoodfellowKim Goodfellow Member, Foundations Course Member Rank ✭5✭

    Omg yes!!!!! We just talked about this earlier. All the Halloween candy just sitting there easy to grab. Satisfy that sweet tooth. "Make me happy" taste!! I justified it because I ate a piece of candy before I worked out. No big deal I will burn it off. Or had a stressful day and a glass of wine sounds good. I justify it by saying it's less calories then a cupcake. Or I have enough calories left for the day, why not!! The sad part is I tell my daughter no you can't have that all day long but I turn around and don't follow my own rules for her just because "I had a bad day, or stressful day".

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭
    edited November 2019

    Kim, Yes!! Like since I had a bad day then I deserve a treat. I have to keep telling myself, food is not a treat, it is supposed to be fuel. I shouldn't see it as a soother in times of stress or a reward for a good day. But I'm a work in progress! 🙄🤪

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Jenny Gordon I totally agree with you! It does help to plan ahead and have healthy choices around when the emotions take over. But when I can just jump in the car and go through the DQ drive through, that's when I'm in trouble!

    I try to give myself a minute and ask myself is this really going to help me feel better? Would doing something else be better for me? I also try the money angle, like do I really need to spend money on this right now, especially if I have a house full of already paid for groceries at home? I have also texted my FP, hey, this cookie is calling me and she's talked me down. I've texted friends too.

    By the way, I also play the ukelele! 😍

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    These past few days have been rough ones, but I've tried to keep in mind what @Heather Quinlan said about letting go of feeling guilty that I ate something "bad" or about wanting to use food to feel better. And it actually worked to the extent that I freed myself from the guilt, and once I did that, the urgency to eat something comforting eased up. I'm going to see how this goes over the weekend. Anybody else finding things that work or not work for you?

  • Cindi RuhlCindi Ruhl Member Rank ✭2✭

    Great discussion folks. I can feel the support oozing thru the words! Yay!!

    I appreciate the money angle mentioned.The *I have a full frig at home do I really need Kit -Kat from the gas station kinda thing. A hail Mary action I have used in times of "I want a Kit-Kat?" I buy it...and then..I eat half and I enjoy every nibble. BUT, Wait wait it gets better! Now, I THROW THE REST AWAY. Right then.

    I feel empowered and in control. The next time I have a Kit-Kat attack I have 2 questions for myself. Question one is about desire and question two is about money *in the trash. This time allows me to to slow my roll a bit which puts some distance between me and the item which is KEY for me!

    How much is half a (insert your treat) worth? Sometimes... it's worth it! Many more times it's not.

    In BOTH outcomes I am in control and it's ok. Time is your friend use it to your advantage.

    Mad respect to my fellow AFS warriors!

  • Judy SternJudy Stern Member Rank ✭3✭

    This is exactly what I needed tonight, I’ve been emotional/stress eating for the last 2 weeks and I’m starting to feel guilty that it’s gone on this long. I know better, I’ve done better I just can’t get a handle on it this time. I know I’ll figure it out but it’s nice to know that I’m not alone until I do.

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭
    edited November 2019

    @Judy Stern No, you are not alone!! And you're right, WE will figure this out. 🤗

  • Lauren Baker (RH)Lauren Baker (RH) Member, Inward Journey Meditation Group Member Rank ✭6✭

    @Tricia Nault such a good topic and love reading all the responses. Thank you for sharing - it is so helpful to know when you are not alone. Not sure if any of this helps or makes sense, but a few little things that came to mind that have helped me:

    1. Like @Heather Quinlan 's strategy: removing the guilt. I have definitely lived in a 'good vs bad' food mindset. As I've started to remove those monikers, it has helped chip away at the guilt when I eat something I considered 'bad.' I was SO strict in one direction for long periods of time, and then would just gorge and binge on every 'bad' thing because I had been so 'good.' Eating out caused paralyzing anxiety that made the time not fun for me, or anyone around me. The shame and guilt of eating 'bad' and of the binge was a vicious cycle. I am noticing that as I give myself permission to enjoy a moment - with food and the people around me, it takes away the anxiety and makes it more enjoyable for those around me as well. It makes it less forbidden, let's me listen to my body and then provide it what it needs.
    2. This may sound crazy, and little embarrassed to admit it, but...a lot of my guilt and then binging came from moments of loneliness or vulnerability, when I was alone in the evenings. @Eileen McNally gave me some SUPER educational and inspirational instagram accounts to follow, and I cleaned out the ones that could trigger feelings of loneliness, "less than", etc. Having a feed filled with positivity and EDUCATION during those moments I'm most down or vulnerable has helped. I work in marketing and removing social media from my life completely isn't an option, so mid-as-well make the time I AM on it beneficial.
    3. Like @Bella Diaz said: food is energy! It GIVES me the opportunity to lift heavy things and then put them down! I GET to eat it! Knowing how proud I am going to be when I do something I didn't think I could brings joy, and I have to have the energy to do it. Taking a moment to be thankful for food I'm about to consume and the energy it provides takes away some of that anxiety and scarcity-mentality.

    <3 Thanks for opening the dialogue!!

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Baker, Lauren Thank you so much for your insight. I totally understand what you mean by having social media in your life and have it be a positive force instead of something that makes you feel "less than" or inadequate in some way. And I too would be super strict with what foods I allowed myself to eat, then fall off the wagon and binged on everything. I've realized that I can't give food the power over my life like that. Food cannot dictate my every move, every feeling, I have. I just can't let it have that power over me anymore, making me feel guilty, bad, insecure, etc.

    Thanks to all of you @Baker, Lauren @Bella Diaz @Heather Quinlan @Judy Stern @Cindi (FSx) Ruhl @Jenny Gordon @Beth Manoogian @Susan Horowitz @Kim Goodfellow for all of your insight, sharing your knowledge and things that have worked for you and not worked. I'm glad to know that I'm not alone and I hope you all feel the same.

  • Jill CalvinJill Calvin Member Rank ✭3✭
    edited November 2019

    Thanks for starting such a great thread, Tricia Nault and such concrete, easy to understand definitions of the different types of hunger, @Bella Diaz.Emotional eating has always been a huge problem for me, despite knowing I will only feel worse when I’m done. Now to remember to turn here first when the next urge hits!

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Jill Calvin glad you are here! 🤗

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Brook Adams this is really helpful! Thank you for posting the video and your personal story!

  • Sawyer Paull-BairdSawyer Paull-Baird Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin
    edited November 2019
    @Brook Adams Awesome post and share here.. I just watched the entire video and really happy I took the time to do so. 
    The point about habits, and how every single action you take in your life, big or small, is to some degree, feeding/creating a habit, is something I try to keep front and center in my mind.  I am not sure where or who I picked this lesson up from, I think it may have been from my grandfather.. Regardless.. when I find myself feeling the urge to do something "small" I remind myself that the habit that creates is not small at all... nor are the "second order consequences" (love that as well).
    Multi-tasking by reading emails while working on a project.. that reinforces multi-tasking which is a terrible life habit..
    Putting off doing laundry, or shoveling snow... that's establishing the habit of procrastination.. again, terrible life habit..
    The list could go on and on.
    Now, I am FAR from a golden-child with this, and I do not intend to use myself as an example of one, BUT, being MINDFUL of this truth is super helpful.. No one is going to be perfect with this all of the time, but if you have the internal dialogue in your head, I have to believe it is helpful in the long-run.
    Anyways, loved the video as a whole, even beyond that point.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Sawyer Paull-Baird BS CSCS ACSM-EP PN-Lvl1
    Agent of Change / Fitness Innovation & Education Coordinator
  • Chris EarlyChris Early Member, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Brook Adams That Video <3. I am the same person when it comes to talking myself into something... "pizza... Duh!" 😜 As for the emotional eating aspect I think that shift from having it when you are happy/ in a good place would be key for me. The biggest impact I got out of the video (which is no surprise), no matter what it is, good/bad. The more you do something, the more likely you are going to do it again and you won't see the affects until later in time. Very simple concept, but at the same time so hard to change. This is definitely something I want to focus on/ keep in the front of my mind. "How will this affect me later down the road" (not just with emotional eating, but in every aspect of my life). #BreakThroughMoment!


  • Terry LobbTerry Lobb Member, Inward Journey Meditation Group Member Rank ✭5✭

    @Tricia Nault I have all your same struggles with emotional eating. It’s a real struggle. I started tracking my food the past few weeks with an app called foodcam. You take pictures of everything u eat each day. The visual is an eye opener and I tend to not want to grab the junk as often since I have to take a picture. Like you I run to my comfort foods and this has helped. I’ve also increased my water and that has helped too. I love this topic and look forward to the conversations to support each other!!!

  • Terry LobbTerry Lobb Member, Inward Journey Meditation Group Member Rank ✭5✭

    @Adam Michael suggested to read ATOMIC HABITS. It really helped a-lot especially with my goals with @Brook Adams. it taught me to ask myself regarding every action I take each day if what I am doing will help me or hinder me from becoming a better version of myself and reaching my goals. As far as food goes, each heathy food I eat gets a positive and each unhealthy food I eat gets a negative. My goal is to have more positives than negatives each day. Awesome book on creating good habits!!!

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Terry Lobb thank you so much for sharing this book with the forum! I'm going to look it up today.

    How's everyone doing? This is an especially difficult time coming up with the holidays. The stress of putting all the holiday gatherings together, shopping for presents, and just everything that it entails is enough. But then add in all the emotional stuff that comes with the holidays: people who won't be with us this year, family relationship issues. I tend to have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) so instead of being happy like everyone else, the whole holiday season just drags me down, which of course leads me to the dark side and eating to make myself feel better.

    This year I'm planning to use my light therapy to combat the SAD, and I just got a weighted blanket which is helping me sleep much better, which in turn, makes me less irritable. What do you do to help you get through this time of year?

  • Tracy DuntonTracy Dunton Member Rank ✭1✭

    I think that everyone has a “drug of choice” which is really just a habitual distraction from something uncomfortable or even boredom. Some people “crave” and struggle to resist food, others it’s gambling, alcohol, shopping, gaming, etc. I think we should be nice to ourselves but require ourselves to allow those distractions less often. Guilt and shame just slow us down.

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    Thanks for commenting @Tracy Dunton!

    Two things jump out at me:

    1. I think it's easy to say that we need to limit the distraction, but it's a lot harder to do to break the habit of eating due to emotional reaction or boredom. What strategies do you use to resist eating as a coping mechanism?

    2. Addiction to food is different than than an addiction to drugs and alcohol in that you could completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. A person cannot completely abstain from eating. In Overeaters Anonymous, they talk about abstinence as whether you are following a plan of eating or not. If you are following the plan of eating you have created for yourself then you are being abstinent. I think it's an interesting concept that could be helpful.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Tricia Nault you bring up two very interesting points there. @Bella Diaz will likely have some great things to share on this as well.

    From my perspective, with regard to the first question on strategies to resist the coping mechanism of eating due to boredom or an emotional reaction I think you have to first determine what the reason is you're eating (is it emotions or is it boredom). If it's boredom, I feel like that is much easier path to address. I've had many clients over the years that have ate, reflexively, out of boredom. Grabbing for the bag of chips or the cookies when there's nothing else to do. In these cases there's a couple of different strategies I've employed that have been successful.

    The first one (and this one usually a good way to start tapering off snacking when bored) is to transition to healthier snacks. Invariably, when people snack due to boredom it is usually on "not so healthy" foods; cookies, chips, other snack items, fast food, and junk food all seem to be the foods of choice when bored. I suspect this has something to do with the dopamine release these foods generate in our brains (dopamine is the "make you happy" neurotransmitter, and junk foods release greater level of dopamine), so it stands to reason that your brain would crave those foods when it's bored b/c it's looking for a pleasure response. We can start to short-circuit that cycle by consuming healthier foods. Setting yourself up environmentally for success here is huge. Having fruits and vegetables cut, washed, portioned and ready to go can make choosing the healthier option much easier and more automatic when you're bored.

    The second option is to remove the snacking element completely by coming up with a list of alternative activities you can do when you're bored rather than eating. This is something that has to be done proactively (just like having the fruits and veggies washed and ready to go). If you're relying on your willpower and/or your creativity in the moment to come up with an alternative activity to do, you're likely not going to be able to overcome the pull to go back to the much easier (and more familiar) habit of eating junk food. My suggestion here is make a list of 5-10 activities you can do when you're bored (that don't involve eating) and then pick from that list when you find yourself wanting to eat out of boredom.

    With regard to the emotional element, this is where @Bella Diaz will likely have a lot to say. I will add in some concepts from psychology research that I think can be helpful. The first area is mindfulness and it's importance in simply recognizing you're eating out of emotion. I think that's the biggest step to take. Most people on this planet react and do several things based emotion and they're completely unaware they're being driven by emotion (it's just a reaction on the deepest, most subconscious levels of the brain and as a result, we're acting before we even realize why or what we're doing). With that said, my first suggestion is to practice a degree of mindfulness and awareness of your emotions to understand when they're driving your behavior. This too can be hard to do in the moment (like coming up with the list of alternative activities to do when you're looking to eat out of boredom). I think to do this effectively starting a mindfulness practice can be extremely beneficial. Nevertheless, I think the first step to diminishing eating out of emotions is the actual awareness that's what you're doing. If you can do that then you get onto the next step of the process which is allowing whatever emotion is there that is driving you to want to eat to just be there without reacting to it or judging it (or acting on it by eating). We can't truly stop emotions (or thoughts) from coming up, not by any stretch of the imagination. We can, however, control how we react to them and what actions we take based on them. Thoughts last milliseconds, but when we ruminate over them they can last for days. Even emotions have a short "shelf life," research suggests the average emotion last 90 seconds or so, the feelings and rumination we have over that emotion can persist for days (if not forever in some case). Indeed, it's not actually the thought or the emotion that is the issue, it's what our complex human brain does with that thought or emotion that causes their persistence and thereby problems.

    So what to do with emotions or thoughts? Work on defusing from them. Stepping back from them and realizing they're only as powerful as the power you give them. Tara Brach, a well known mindfulness practitioner, recommends a practice called RAIN with regard to dealing with emotions (particularly difficult emotions). I think this practice can be very helpful and constructive (warning it does require some introspection and work, but if you're willing to do it you can develop the amazing ability to become the observer of your emotional storms, rather than being caught in the middle of them, pelted by the rain, wind, and hail). Here's a link to Brach's website - it's worth checking out:

    I will say the "allow" part is the hardest part of what Brach recommends, but it is the most profound. We're taught (incorrectly I might add) to fight and refute our negative thoughts and emotions. We're taught they shouldn't be there and we should be "happy" all the time. This is a myth, and it's not what it means to be truly human. Being human means experiencing the range of thoughts and emotions and being able to respond to that range in healthiest way possible. Being human doesn't mean being happy all the time, that's for sure. That said, trying to "feel good" does have a logical and evolutionarily protective basis, it is actually an exercise in futility. If we can't actually control what thoughts and emotions come up, what's the point in trying to refute them or change them? The answer is there's not a really good point. Rather than waste time, effort, and precious mental/emotional energy doing that, why not just allow them to come and go like clouds in the sky. I realize that's easier said then done. I still struggle with it myself on many days, but each day I practice this technique it's gets a little easier and a little easier.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Tricia NaultTricia Nault Member, AFS Staff Rank ✭7✭

    @Mike Stack Thank you for posting this! I will look into the RAIN information.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Tricia Nault! No problem. Let us know what you think. Tara Brach really has some cool stuff.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

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