Anna Wootton

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Three tips for setting a new routine that helps you avoid emotional eating traps

Have you felt as if emotional eating has taken a hold lately?

Perhaps you’ve noticed you are eating past the point of fullness, or snacking when not hungry, on a more frequent basis than you were previously. Or perhaps it’s not the frequency but rather the amount you find you are eating – suddenly you are eating in cycles that feel like binging – you’re eating normal amounts and in response to hunger cues when at work, but weeknights and weekends are a different story.

Everyone has a different threshold that has to be crossed for them to feel like they have ventured into the territory of emotional eating once again but the same sentiment is usually behind it: a lack of control, and a return of those negative feelings of guilt, shame and self-criticism.

At the end of the day, some days we will eat more and some days we will eat less. We aren’t actually programmed to eat the exact same caloric amount and the exact same foods at the exact same times every day – this is a myth that has gained momentum over time, thanks to the societal norms of mealtimes and doctor-recommended caloric averages each day.

However, these recommended calorie intake guidelines are based on weekly intake, and simply divided by seven to help give a daily amount. Who’s to say how you divide these up?

In any case, it isn’t pleasant when emotional eating patterns return. I highly recommend talking with a friend, a coach or a therapist if you find they return and persist, so you can do the work to get to the bottom of why these patterns have returned, and in doing so help prevent them returning again.

In the meantime while you explore that work, there are a few tips I wanted to share to help you halt these patterns in their tracks, to avoid emotional eating taking a hold over your life.

  1. Disrupt yourself.

A mentor of mine used this phrase when talking to me recently and I love it. Disruption is a big buzzword in recent years – in my day job, working in marketing, it’s often used to describe new products or services that are changing an industry.

Think of disrupting yourself as changing your own industry. Clearly the way you are living isn’t working if it is allowing these emotional eating patterns to creep back in. While you do need to explore why this is happening on a deeper level, as mentioned above, one thing is for sure: something has to change.

So disrupt yourself! Identify when the emotional eating is happening the most: is it at night? After lunch? At home, or at work? When you are out or after you have talked to a certain person? Once you have identified the common thread, change it. Eliminate it, reschedule it, or start to assess it (if it’s something less easily changed, such as your job). Look at anything you can do to disrupt your current pattern.

Try reading a good book to change up your routine.

2. Change your environment.

This isn’t too far from disrupting yourself, but it needs its own point because it’s an important one. Say you have identified that your emotional eating happens on Sundays. Maybe it’s masking an underlying unease about returning to work the next day, and the stress that the work week brings. Perhaps you have an underlying belief that Sundays are for treating yourself and because you are too strict with yourself and rules around food the rest of the time, treating yourself ends up being a free-for-all. There could be any number of reasons, but the best way to tackle the situation until you can do the work to address the reasons is to change your environment.

If Sunday nights are when the ice cream comes out and the guilt cycle begins, change how your Sunday nights usually look. If you usually watch a movie and veg on the couch, that is a situation that is now linked to eating ice cream, so next Sunday, try making it a night for reading a good book instead, or talking with a friend who you don’t get to chat to very often, or taking a bubble bath.

Don’t make the focus about the food as there’s too much pressure and blame involved. Instead change what’s happening around the food, and see if that helps show the mind there are other things to focus on than ice cream on a Sunday.

Develop a mantra or two to help foster conscious decision making and self-forgiveness.

3. Develop a mantra.

The guilt, shame and regret trap is real, and only helps emotional eating cycles perpetuate. Focus on prevention first, and if you still feel you overeat or emotionally eat, focus on forgiveness second. Don’t even give guilt or shame a chance to get a foot in the door.

One way to do this is by developing a couple of mantras: I call them the open and close mantras. The open mantra is to be used when you feel the urge to eat and you don’t feel you actually need to.

This mantra can be whatever you want it to be, but an example would be:

Inhale, one two three. I am powerful in my own life, make my own choices, and am happy with my decisions. Exhale, one two three. Inhale, one two three. I am connecting with my body to ask if it is hungry, and if so, what it needs to eat. Exhale, one two three.

This reminds you that you are making this choice consciously and you are in charge. This helps slow you down so your mind has more opportunity to stop the emotional eating before it begins – but it also reminds you that this decision was made consciously and in consultation with your body and its needs, so then it should be easier to forgive yourself afterwards if you feel you overdo it.

The close mantra is to be used after an emotional eating episode. If you do feel that you ate past the point of fullness, when you weren’t hungry, or you just don’t feel happy about the dining experience you just went through, close with a mantra that accepts what happened and offers self-love. An example might be:

Inhale, one two three. I am grateful for the food available to me to nourish my body and soul. I am grateful for the lessons learned in this last dining experience. Exhale, one two three. Inhale, one two three. I accept myself and love myself for all that I have to offer, and for all that I continue to learn. Exhale, one two three.

What are some tips that help you break the emotional eating cycle?