End Emotional Eating

You get to decide when you are stressed; this is something I call the process of appraisal.

Your appraisal of a situation is your evaluation of the situation and your ability to deal with it.

I tend to break this into two parts:

Primary appraisal: Primary appraisal is your evaluation of the significance of the stressor. In other words, “Is this going to kill me? Will I die if _____ occurs?”

Secondary appraisal: Secondary appraisal is your evaluation of your ability to control and/or cope with the stressor. In other words, “What can I do about? Is there anything I can do to make _____ go away?”

People who rely on emotional eating are often not being realistic in their primary and secondary appraisal process. This could mean one of two things. Let’s say you are emotionally eating because you’re in the middle of a house move or a marriage break up. When the appraisal process goes awry, one of two things has happened. Either, your primary appraisal of the stressor is sending you into a full-blown panic (e.g., I am going to die in the process of this move or break up) or your secondary appraisal of the stressor has you believing you cannot deal with the situation (e.g., I may not die in the process, but I cannot deal with it either). Regardless, you turn to your favourite coping mechanism: food.

So, what should you do?

Step one: Re-evaluate your appraisal tactics. 99% of our problems are fixable and 99% of them are within our control. So, the very first thing you need to do is STOP. Right when you begin to feel yourself getting stressed out, stop for just one minute. Go through the primary and secondary appraisal tactics. So, first ask yourself, “Is this going to kill me?” The answer to that question is likely no. Then you move onto the next question: “What can I do about it?” That brings us to…

Step two: Take a deep breath. Do it again. When our bodies are all wound up, it can be very hard to focus on what to do right now to fix your problem. It works best if you can stop that stress response in its tracks by giving your body the cues it needs that the stressor has passed. As deep breathing is counteractive to gearing up to fight or flee, it can be an effective way to calm down enough that you can actually deal with the problem. Counting down from TEN to ONE works for me

Step three: Decide how to cope. Yes, it’s up to you. While it may seem like it happens automatically, it only happens this way if you don’t give yourself any other option other than to act in a way you’ve previously dealt with that stressor. In other words, if you’ve conditioned yourself to eat chocolate cake every time you fight with your partner, the next time you fight with your partner, guess what? You’re going to find yourself automatically reaching for that chocolate cake. Unless you give your body and mind permission to do something else.

Step four: Deal with your emotional eating—The next time you find yourself emotionally eating, first assess: Am I really hungry? On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being starved and 10 being stuffed, where am I? If 6 or higher, don’t eat. If 1-5, ask yourself if something healthier would satisfy you (e.g., an apple). If you are truly hungry, then your body doesn’t want cake, it wants real food… If you’re not truly hungry, then ask: What am I feeling right now? Sad, angry, depressed, hurt? What do I want? Yes, you may still think you want chocolate cake, but if you’re sad, aren’t there other things that will help more than that cake? Like maybe a hug? Or talking to a friend?