How to Break the Cycle of Emotional Eating
Acella Pharmaceuticals, LLC., is partnering with Heather Procknal, NBC-HWC-CHC, to bring greater awareness to the importance of thyroid care and education. This post was sponsored by Acella Pharmaceuticals and should not be construed as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor about your individual medical situation.
Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional or health care provider before beginning any exercise, fitness, diet or nutrition routine.
In a previous article, we explored food cravings, emotional eating, and how to recognize the signs to break the cycle of emotional eating. In this post, I will share tips on how to use a journal to help process and ease emotional eating.
To recap, emotional eating is often triggered by stress, anxiety, boredom or other negative emotions. If you frequently reach for food when you're not truly hungry, you may struggle with emotional eating.
It can be a difficult habit to break, but journaling can help. By writing about your feelings and experiences, you can begin to identify your triggers and learn how to deal with them in a healthier way.
If you’ve never journaled before and don’t know where to begin, here are some tips to help you get started.
4 Pro Tips to Begin a Journaling Habit:
• Treat yourself to a fun new notebook or beautiful blank journal and a nice writing pen to make it more appealing to start writing.
• Keep your journal out on a bedside table to make it easier to remember to use it each day.
• Add a reminder in your calendar to journal before bed until it becomes a daily habit.
• Give yourself permission to be honest with yourself. Nobody else is going to read your journal, so you can feel safe exploring what's going on in your mind and body.
Eight Journal Exercises and Questions to Help Overcome Emotional Eating
1. Write About Your Day. Start a daily journaling routine and take a few minutes to write down what happened during your day. Keep it simple and try to include both the good and the bad. Be honest about how you're feeling – don't scrutinize or judge your words, just write.
2. Track Your Meals. Keep track by recording everything in your journal that you eat and drink, including snacks and beverages. Include the time of day and how you felt before and after eating and drinking.
Then, at the end of the week, review your journal and see if you can identify any patterns or habits that may be contributing to weight gain, low energy levels, negative moods, or poor sleep.
For example, you might notice that you overeat in the evening or consume too many sugary snacks throughout the day. You may also notice that you sleep poorly when you do this.
Or perhaps you have a difficult time saying “no” to free snacks in the office if they’re offered to you, so you overeat and then feel bad.
Tracking can increase awareness and help you become more mindful of your eating habits, which can lead to healthier choices and not eating when you’re not truly hungry.
3. Rate Your Hunger. Before each meal or snack, stop and pause to rate your level of hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “not hungry at all” and 10 being “I'm starving and must eat now!” This will help you become more aware of how often you're looking for food when you're not actually hungry.
Write that number next to your food log to see what level you’re at with each meal or snack. Again, this can be an eye-opener to noticing trends and patterns in your eating habits.
4. Identify Your Emotions. The next time you reach for food for reasons other than hunger, take a moment to stop and identify how you're feeling. Write down the emotions that you're experiencing next to the meal or snack in your food log.
5. Create a "Trigger List." Make note of what ignites your urge to eat when you’re not physically hungry. Is it boredom? Stress? An emotional trigger? After a week, review your trigger list and see if you can identify any patterns.
6. Challenge Your Routines. The next time you have the urge to eat when you're not physically hungry, take a moment to question your routine. Why do you really want to eat? Could your hunger be habit driven?
For example, if you usually grab a snack at 3 p.m., then this is a great opportunity to stop and assess if you need that 3 p.m. snack or if you’d be okay to skip it.
This exercise builds on tapping into the routines and behaviors that drive you to eat.
7. Delve further into the “Why?" and Find Alternatives. Reflect on the factors that have led you to identify as an emotional eater. What past experiences or beliefs have shaped this perception?
Next, ask yourself what you can do instead. Keep this list handy for when hunger strikes and you need something else to keep you satisfied.
Maybe you could get up and stretch your legs. Or go for a quick walk. If that's not an option, you might try doing some gentle stretches to help wake yourself up from a midday slump.
If you can’t leave where you are, try removing the tempting food or drink from your environment so it's out of sight.
8. Ask Yourself, "What Do I Gain?” What are the benefits of emotional eating? What do you gain from this behavior? Ponder the long-term impacts of chronic emotional eating. Then write down what your life would look like if you cut back on emotional eating. To change or stay the same – which outcome do you prefer?
When you give yourself time to think about what your future life could be, you can start taking steps to chip away at what’s driving your eating habits.
Are You Ready to Start Writing Your Way to Better Health?
Journaling may be a huge help to those suffering from all sorts of issues, including emotional eating. So give these journal exercises a try. With time and practice, journaling can offer insight into understanding yourself so you can make positive changes. Once you allow yourself the opportunity for self-discovery, you may feel better in other areas of your life too.