You’ve had a hard day. You’re tired and stressed. You know you shouldn’t, but before you know it you’re emotional eating and drinking again. On the sofa, packet of biscuits and second glass of red in hand. Ahhhh – that feels good. For now. Until the guilt and shame kick in…..and before you know it you’re stuck in an emotional eating cycle.
Trust me, you’re not alone. Emotional eating is incredibly common. We all do it from time to time. Which is ok. No judgement here – I’m a midlife single mum building a business from scratch. I hear you ladies.
But like with everything, you need to keep an eye on when that occasional urge to find solace in a tub of Ben and Jerry’s becomes a regular occurrence. For example, if food and drink are your only way of coping with stress or upset, so emotional eating has become a daily or very regular habit. Or when overeating / bingeing are negatively impacting your physical and mental health.
If any of this resonates, I urge you to keep reading. Because right now I imagine you’re blaming yourself. But I want you to understand why you REALLY can’t stop eating your feelings. And just to be clear from the off – it is not because you are weak, greedy or any of the other terrible things you are telling yourself right now. Here’s why…
5 Emotional Eating Causes
1. You Struggle with Difficult Feelings. Life is challenging. I’m in midlife and boy is it throwing up some curve balls. But whatever stage of life you are in, the human experience is an emotional one.
Yet many of us have the emotional intelligence of a fruit fly. Sorry to be rude but it’s hardly surprising. We learn from those around us. And I’m from the UK, where so few people express their emotions it feels like it might actually be illegal to do so. We’re all ‘fine’, all the time. Which of course we’re not. The problem is, if we don’t share our feelings, and see others do the same, we feel guilty and ‘broken’ for our darker thoughts. We can’t understand them, let alone process them. And therefore, we look for a quick and easy fix.
Food is a great way to numb the discomfort of challenging emotions – temporarily. Unfortunately, it often adds to our longer-term emotional load with a hefty dose of guilt and shame. Thereby sending us into an emotional eating cycle that is difficult to break.
To help reduce emotional and binge eating it’s crucial to recognise that emotions are a natural part of the human experience, and finding alternative, healthier ways to cope with them is key to breaking free from the emotional eating cycle. For more on how to manage challenging emotions read my blog ‘Embracing Those Messy Emotions: The Key to Thriving in Midlife’.
2. You’re Restricting Food: Yup – the bingeing is probably not the primary problem. It’s the times in between when you are restricting food that are keeping you stuck.
Restrictive eating often leads to increased cravings and a heightened focus on food. This can then become a recurring pattern. You know the scenario. You want the chocolate in the afternoon, you eat an apple instead. It doesn’t satisfy you. You try something else. By the time you get home you’re so hungry you eat the chocolate anyway – probably more than you should. You then feel bad about yourself, throw in the towel, eat way more than you intended and vow to get back on the wagon tomorrow. And repeat.
When the body feels deprived, it often craves what it perceives as off-limits. This sets the stage for emotional eating binges, as the body seeks to compensate for perceived scarcity during moments of emotional vulnerability.
Instead of strict diets, adopting a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition can help break the cycle of restriction and overeating.
3. An All or Nothing Mindset. Hands up if you’re a perfectionist? A positive thing right? Erm….wrong! Perfectionism can lead to an all or nothing mindset. If you’re not doing something ‘perfectly’ then you’re not doing it at all. One slip and you’re out of the game.
Welcome to the World of yo-yo dieting and disordered eating. You’ll adhere strictly to a diet one day and completely abandon it the next, especially when faced with stress or emotional triggers. There is no in between. No balance. No room for a little indulgence because it feeds your soul.
It’s probably the same for the relationship with your body – you’re striving for ‘perfection’ – whatever that looks like to you. Maybe it’s the ‘perfect’ number on the scale or the ‘perfect’ dress size. But when you can’t achieve that – you’re by definition ‘flawed’ and ‘imperfect’.
Breaking free from this binary way of thinking is essential. Adopting a more flexible approach to eating allows for enjoyment of all foods in moderation. Recognising that one indulgence doesn’t derail all progress is a crucial step towards cultivating a healthier relationship with food.
4. Food is Your Only Pleasure. In the hustle and bustle of life’s responsibilities, it’s easy to lose sight of personal pleasures and self-care. Emotional eaters often turn to food as a primary source of pleasure because they’ve nothing much else in their armoury! It becomes a quick fix to fill the void left by unmet needs for joy and fulfilment.
Identifying and incorporating alternative sources of pleasure into your life is key to breaking the emotional eating cycle. Try engaging in more activities that bring you joy, connect with loved ones, and explore hobbies that fire up your soul….or give you a good laugh at the very least. By diversifying your sources of pleasure, food no longer holds a monopoly on your emotional well-being.
5. You Hate Your Body. Hate may or may not be too strong a word, but be honest – how often do you look in the mirror and criticise what you see? Now consider how often you admire and appreciate your reflection unconditionally and without caveats?
There’s a whole other (very ranty) blog on how society has conditioned women to believe our self-worth is dependent on how we look….and our age. And that we NEED to spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to achieve very specific body and beauty standards. But we’ll get to that in a few weeks! In the meantime, it’s little surprise that we’re dissatisfied with what we see in the mirror and try to eat away the feelings of inadequacy and disgust.
Cultivating self-love and body acceptance is a powerful antidote to this cycle. It’s also really hard. But it can be done. I am learning to love my enormous boobs and wobbly tummy but it’s taken 47 years to get there. Gently shifting the focus from appearance to overall well-being and recognising the incredible strength and endurance your body has shown is the first step in the journey. Find more with recognising the incredible human being you are in my blog ‘New Year. New Me. No Thanks’.
In conclusion, breaking free from the clutches of emotional eating is not an overnight job. It’s a journey that involves self-reflection, habit breaking, nutritional rehabilitation and self-compassion. But with commitment you can cultivate a positive relationship with food and yourself. That will sometimes involve a night on the sofa with a pizza and wine. The good bit? You’ll actually get to enjoy it and not beat yourself up afterwards. Sound refreshing?
If you need emotional eating support – then I am here for you. As an emotional eating coach and specialist, I work with women just like you who have been in a lifetime battle with their weight and body image. But, if you’re tired of the endless yo-yo dieting and the associated guilt, shame and negative self-talk, why not try something new?
I am a licensed practitioner offering The Eating Freely Programme (see resource list below), which provides evidence-based structured support to help adults fully recover from emotional eating and binge eating disorder. Book a free discovery call with me to find out more and to discuss the free trial available for the online version of this programme.
I’d love to hear about your journey with emotional eating or binge eating disorder. So let me know in the comments what has helped you, or if you are still struggling.
If you like what you’ve read and would like more practical information and tips on nutrition, lifestyle and mindset for midlife women then give me a follow at motherflushingmidlife at the social links below. And of course, feel free to share!