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How To Stop Emotional Eating For Good
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How To Stop Emotional Eating For Good

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 29 November 2016
For many of us, food isn’t simply sustenance. We eat to celebrate and to commiserate. We binge when we’re tired or bored, and restrict when we’re stressed or heartbroken. With food serving so many different roles, our relationship with it can become emotionally charged, setting the scene for destructive habits. We tapped Elena Terziyska, a health coach who specializes in emotional eating and body positivity, for proactive tips on restoring a balanced approach to food.

Never say the word “diet” again

Humans love the promise of a fresh start and the idea that we can transform overnight, which is why gyms and detox companies make such a killing at the beginning of each new year. But expectation is the root of all disappointment, and as we inevitably fall short, this all-or-nothing mentality ends up sabotaging our virtuous intentions.

“Rather than thinking of what you’re giving up, try to concentrate on the bigger picture and what you’re getting from deciding to change your habits,” suggests Terziyska. “Try to think ‘I choose to eat nourishing foods that serve me well’ instead of ‘I’m giving up my favorite foods’.” 

These positive affirmations will make your new lifestyle feel like less of a rigid struggle, and when you do have an indulgent day (which is fine, by the way), you won’t enter a spiral of self-loathing and throw in the towel completely.

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 Improve your sleep habits

Evidence that sleeping less than seven hours a night can lead to weight gain is mounting. There’s a hormonal explanation for this, but part of it is also emotional.

When you’re tired and low you’re not allowing your body the proper break it needs, so your brain is seeking constant stimulation to remain in the ‘awake’ state,” says Terziyska. “Naturally, you reach for processed foods and behave more impulsively.”

In other words, when you’re struggling with brain fog and low energy you don’t have the foundation for self-control. There’s also the comforting effect of sugar, fat, and carbs, which are even more appealing when you’re feeling tired and sorry for yourself.

To help you get enough sleep try and wind down properly before bed. Terziyska advises turning off your devices or download a blue light blocker app to stop the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) from delaying the release of melatonin — a hormone that promotes drowsiness. 

Do a social media detox

If you look at fitness influencer Instagram accounts and progress photos for “fitspiration” you might want to reconsider, because sometimes they’re more intimidating than they are inspiring.

They’ve got the body you’ve always dreamed of, they always eat healthy food, they’re constantly exercising, and nothing seems to get in their way, as they have strong willpower and can control their issues,” says Terziyska. “But people diet specifically for shoots, getting to a low level of body fat that can’t be sustained for a long period of time. The health hazards alongside that are far too dangerous – you’re running a risk of amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), abnormal body and hormonal functions, decreased bone density and more.”

Remember that every time you look at social media you’re comparing your behind the scenes life to their highlight reel — their time-perfected poses to your relaxed softness — especially in this world of photoshop apps and flattering filters. Try a social media detox and see how it makes you feel, not having that constant point of comparison, or edit your feed and follow body-positive people instead.


Find the root of the impulse

Our emotional responses to food don’t just come from nowhere; they’re developed over time, and like any negative behavioral pattern the root cause needs to be tackled.

Terziyska urges her clients to look for the origins of their issue. Sometimes it’s a difficult trauma, sometimes it’s a seemingly insignificant nasty comment that went deep: “The problem often stems from [the belief that] a certain body aesthetic would need to be achieved in order to be liked or accepted, ” explains Terziyska. “Believe you deserve love, both from yourself and others. Accepting that whatever happened to you is not your fault and your past doesn’t define you are incredibly powerful thoughts.”

Stop the negative self-talk

This small but mightily effective technique can alleviate some of the feelings of worthlessness that lead to a binge. Don’t talk down to yourself. Show compassion and acceptance, just as you would to a friend who was feeling vulnerable and unhappy.

Remove temptation

Although labeling foods as solely “good” or “bad” sets up unnecessarily rigid categories in your mind and can lead to disordered eating, it’s never a bad thing to clean out your cupboards.

If you’re having a low moment it’s too easy to reach for the ice cream / pizza / chocolate, but if they aren’t in the house you’re forced to sit with your feelings and watch your thought patterns. Chances are, after 15 minutes the impulse to self-medicate with junk food has passed.

“Stock up on foods that are nourishing and full of all the vital ingredients to leave you feel healthy, glowing, and full of energy. You’ll be more likely to make better choices going forward,” says Terziyska. 

And for those times when you absolutely must have a treat, have healthier options to hand; a ripe frozen banana, or creamy Greek yoghurt with berries and a drizzle of honey can make a surprisingly satisfying substitutes for ice cream.