Stop Emotional Eating! 5 Steps to Eating Intuitively

How to stop emotional eating, stress eating, or binge eating by learning to listen to your body!

If you have a heartbeat you’ve probably had an ‘emotional eating’ episode sometime in your life. You know, the kind where you open up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and eat in front of your TV while binge watching Say Yes To The Dress.  All because you may have failed an exam, had a stressful day at work, or experienced a major event or loss.

Emotional eating is part of our culture because our families and society teach us that food is to be used as a source of comfort.

Why do we eat when we’re emotional?

When we socialize, we eat and drink. At parties, we eat and drink. When we have successes (or failures)…you guessed it – we eat or drink.  Furthermore, neuroscience has shown us that when people binge eat their brain builds up a tolerance for dopamine (our happy neurotransmitter) – so then a healthy portion of food isn’t enough to soothe and comfort.

Learn How to Stop Emotional Eating

Consequently, those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) eat larger and larger portions of food to get the same feeling of satiation and emotional release or comfort that those without BED get by eating a normal portion of food.

But what happens when this emotional or binge eating turns into a major coping skill? When you find yourself eating more than your body needs because you’re are stressing about the next bump in the road of life – which lets face it, come way more frequently than we’d like…Weight gain, guilt, shame, poor body image, depression, social isolation, etc…that’s what!

Learn to eat intuitively.

Intuitive eating is a skill that is acquired. It does not happen overnight because you are quite literally rewiring your brain to recognize and react to food differently. Intuitive eating involves recognizing the internal cues within your body and providing only the energy (food) that your body needs. The following are 5 beginner steps to eating intuitively!

Step 1: RATE YOUR HUNGER

on a scale from 1-10 (10 being absolutely starving) before each meal. If you find yourself consistently waiting until you are between an 8-10 before you eat, chances are you’re probably going to end up engaging in emotional eating patterns…ever heard of “hangry” (hungry + angry)!?  Instead eat when you’re between a 6-7 on your hunger scale, eating a smaller portion of food that will fuel your body for longer and provide you with the energy to get you until your next meal.

Step 2: LEARN TO IDENTIFY YOUR EMOTIONS

Identify how you feel before, during, and after your meal. You will have an incredibly difficult time listening to your body if you are not aware or in touch with your emotions. Notice and learn the small differences between bored and hungry or tired and hungry. Check out the following list of emotions and begin to do a mental check-in at mealtime.

Step 3: EAT SLOWER

Part of eating intuitively is actively listening to the cues of your body. When we eat very quickly the receptors in our stomachs are not activated at being full – but later when we are absolutely stuffed! These signals need time to go through the vagus nerve from the gut to the brainstem. Eating quickly may not provide enough time for your hormones to communicate through this intricate system. Pump the breaks!

Step 4. STOP “DIETING”

Dieting isn’t working for you and maybe it’s safe to say…it never has. When we operate from a feast of famine perspective of things we can or cannot eat then we condition ourselves to view food as a reward for ‘good behavior’. Fad phrases such a “cheat days” and “cheat meals” start popping up because we deprive our bodies of certain foods or categories. Fixing this will mean two things, 1: You will most likely gain weight when you stop dieting (but wait!) 2: as you get better and better at eating intuitively you will begin to lose weight as your body will be communicating to you better and you will be listening better!

Step 5. TUNE OUT YOUR PARENTS

Who was part of the “clean plate club” or the “we eat at 6pm” family? When we hold on to the ways we have operated our whole lives then we are signing up for staying in the exact same pattern. You do not need to eat everything on your plate, you do not need to take leftovers home, and you do not need to eat at set times. Learning to eat intuitively means focusing on what your body is saying and listening to it communicate to you. How might your relationship with food change if you intently listened after each bite!

If you would like to work on learning how to eat intuitively then give us a call today! We specialize in helping children, adolescents, and adults develop a healthier relationship with food and exercise!

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Dr. Samantha Winton

Dr. Winton is the owner and clinical director at Integrated Care Clinic. She is a licensed psychologist that specializes in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, food anxiety, body image, intuitive eating, and perfectionism.

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