Despite the most valiant exercise efforts, excess weight is impossible to lose if your diet isn’t “in shape” too. Unfortunately, we are more accustomed to working out our physical muscles than our mindfulness-eating “muscles.” How many times have you found yourself munching beyond the state of fullness, while mindlessly watching TV, or when you’re bored or depressed?
There are three main reasons why people eat other than having a physiological sensation of hunger: anxiety, depression, and anger/frustration (Arnow, Kenardy & Agras, 1995). These emotions are more likely to influence your snack choices, than your meal choices. For example it is more likely that you will choose to eat an entire batch of cookie batter when you’re upset yet you will continue to eat the same thing for breakfast even if you’re not in the greatest mood.
It may be frustrating to hear that overweight women are more prone to emotional eating (Lowe & Fisher, 1983). The good news is that women who decrease their emotional eating can see weight-loss results, versus women who are trying to lose weight but do not decrease the amount of food they eat for reasons other than hunger. (Blair, Lewis & Booth, 1990).
Three steps to get yourself out of the habit of emotional eating:
1 : Observe your habits
Simply acknowledging when, what, how much, where, and why you are eating throughout the day is the most important step. Keep a detailed log of what you eat. This will help you identify your problematic eating times, and set realistic goals to overcome these times. Use a pocket day planner to jot down the exact quantity of what you ate, how hungry you felt before eating, and your feeling state (i.e., depressed, lonely, happy).
2 : Identify patterns
Look back at your food log and highlight the times you ate more to feed your emotions than to feed your hunger. Do you normally eat out of anxiety midday? Out of mindless boredom at 8pm? Set your alarm for 5 minutes before those times. Hearing the alarm go off will cue you to remember that this is a time when you need to become more mindful of what you are doing. Give yourself the freedom to eat, but only after you’ve waited 20 minutes. If you’re feeling antsy, grab a glass of ice water or tea until the time expires. More often than not, you’ll find that after the delay, you will have surpassed the craving.
3 : Set goals
Set a goal to decrease the number of bouts of emotional eating by one each week. Trying to completely eliminate all bouts of emotional eating is unrealistic if you’ve been doing it every night for years. Just like exercise, consistency is the key. Work your mindfulness-eating “muscle” daily, and you’ll see the results of your exercise regime much faster.