When you get stressed, or experience an uncomfortable emotion, the natural desire is to want to avoid it.
You don’t want to feel things like agitation, stress, loneliness, or any other emotion that makes you feel unhappy.
As a result, when these emotions arise, we do whatever we can to resist them. We distract ourselves in some way.
That is why so many people eat when they feel uncomfortable emotions. The same hold true with drinking, but for this post we’ll focus on eating.
For many many years I was doing emotional eating without even realizing it. I just did it. I developed the behavior over the first 18 years of my life.
Since coming to the realization that I was emotionally eating, I’ve been working to curb that habit. I’ve been working particularly hard during this past year.
I moved out to San Francisco and took on a new job, and this new job caused me a ton of stress. That’s when my stress eating tendency revealed itself to me again. I was experiencing what I would call extreme job stress on a day to day basis, and it quickly revealed my stress eating habit.
This type of reaction to emotions is causing a lot of problems in the world. It’s causing a lot of obesity and bad health. When people feel crappy, they reach for a quick hit of dopamine (that’s one of the brain chemicals food triggers your brain to produce).
If you want to cultivate a healthier relationship with using food to alleviate emotions, start with learning mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps you develop self-awareness, and when you improve your self awareness you get better at noticing what’s going on in your body.
In short, you develop the capacity to realize you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion before you reach for the food.
So for starters, just start paying attention to the behavior you are habitually reverting to when you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion.
Then, in an instance where you’ve caught yourself about to respond to an emotion with eating, replace the act of eating with some other action that you make up.
Today, I noticed myself about to eat out of boredom at work. I literally had the orange in my hand. But I had just eaten almonds 40 minutes earlier, and I really wasn’t hungry.
So I replaced the eating with taking a walk around the office and doing a few pull ups. That’s a pretty solid trade!
Once you replace your habitual action with your new one, reward yourself after you do the new behavior.
If you, instead of just grabbing a snack, take a walk, maybe try rewarding yourself with a snack after your walk.
Unless you reward your brain for engaging in a new action, it won’t stick.
You have the power to change your relationship with food, and it starts with self-awareness. Your self-awareness isn’t going to develop on it’s own, either, so get to work on your mindfulness practice!