Getting a grip on emotional eating  

As a result of all the emotional layering around food, many of us have forgotten how—and even why—we eat. Animals in the wild know that food is nourishment: it’s essential to their survival and that’s that. Animals do not eat for recreation, reward, entertainment or to numb out, and their food does not replace the approval they never got from their caretakers. Not so with us, and it shows.

Are you hungry…. or bored? 

When you start to change to a healthier way of eating—one which includes lots of fresh, healthy food—items that are emotional “go to” foods have pretty much been eliminated from your diet. Gone is the double-cheese pizza, the side of fries, the chocolate lava cake. As a result, it’s very possible you may at times feel deprived, cheated, lonely and just hungry for…well, something. Congratulations. Even though you might not believe it right now, what you’re experiencing is sort of an awakening, a re-connection with your true self.

You see, without the distraction of food, you’re essentially experiencing emotions and thoughts that may very well have always were there; they were just hidden under the veil of food additives, added sugar and perhaps merely larger quantities. Somewhere deep down a part of you may be rebelling against this reunion with the self. The “old” you had been in a comfortable groove, thank you very much, and—like a child throwing a tantrum—that old self would like to hold on to the status quo.

A new way to think 

Here are a few guidelines that will help you navigate the waters, especially if you’re feeling like “something is missing,” or you’re tempted to jump ship and just go eat whatever your particular comfort food happens to be with wild abandon.

Whether you’re currently having cravings and emotional swings or you’re happily sailing along in a program that is working for you, pay attention and check in with yourself. You may even want to post your own version of these strategies in a place where you’ll be reminded of them daily.

Eat when you are hungry. While it may sound basic, few of us ever really allow ourselves to get to the point of true hunger. We eat lunch because it’s noon, or have breakfast because someone said it’s the most important meal of the day. We eat when really, we are just dehydrated or thirsty. We eat because someone did us wrong. Ask yourself—every time you get ready to put something in your mouth—“am I hungry, or is there something else going on?”

Simply eat. Eat without distractions and without doing something else at the same time. Diversions include radio, television, email, newspapers and books, sporting events and especially driving. Make it a point to not eat in the car, even if you’re a passenger. Whether you’re having a meal or a snack, just eat. Not only will this practice allow you to gauge when you’re full and it’s time to stop, it will also mean you get more enjoyment from your food, because you’ll be truly present.

Eat what your body wants. Yes, what your body wants, not your mind. To get an accurate assessment, you have to slow down and be honest with yourself. Your physical form doesn’t want chocolate covered potato chips, your head does. Nor does your body want you to eat until you are so stuffed that your pants dig in. Consider keeping a journal to see how eating certain foods makes you feel, especially if you are not familiar with the idea of giving your body what it needs.