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Millions of people around the world use food as a way to relieve stress or numb pain. We focus here on food, but, of course, it is not the only weapon of distraction from underlying angst, discomfort, or pain that we use. The discussion below may still resonate.

We often don’t notice the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.  Eating (and then eating even more) to feel better turns into a vicious cycle.  Mindful eating is one of the best ways to help deal with this situation.

Emotional eating is a response to certain triggers. You may already notice your patterns – boredom, fatigue, avoidance.  A food journal can help you notice the patterns emerging if you record for a period what you eat, what prompted you to eat, and how you’re feeling while eating. 

I noticed that I was snacking regularly when watching Netflix alone.  I also noticed that I tended to snack when I was bored even if I wasn’t hungry. This awareness of loneliness and boredom was a helpful first step in helping me cut down the use of food to compensate for what was missing in my life. Another common example is to grab some food whenever you’re facing tight deadlines at work. Or you might binge eat when in the midst of relationship problems with your spouse/partner. There will always be emotional triggers that make you reach for food to feel better.

Figure Out Your Why

Emotional eating isn’t the only trigger. Physical triggers like thirst and fatigue and environmental triggers like time of day and cooking shows can prompt us to eat. When you find yourself reaching for food, I invite you to ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are tired, thirsty, sad, annoyed or lonely or bored or procrastinating? 

And, keep in mind that overeating can also be a product of learned behavior, such as eating all the food on your plate regardless of whether you were still hungry because you were raised to feel guilty about letting food go to waste  ✋ and were never really taught portion control. In other words, we weren’t taught to listen to our body’s signals. This is very common – more like the norm – in western culture.

Determine What You’re Really Hungry For

Understanding why you are eating more than you would like will inform what you do about it. Overeating out of  loneliness has a different set of solutions than overeating because you work in a stressful and unkind environment, are overwhelmed by negative energy around you,  feel resentment because you are living your life based on someone else’s values, standards, or dreams than your own, or suffered trauma earlier in your life.

Begin to Address Your Whys

Start to put in place strategies and active practices one step at a time to address your whys. In some cases, you may need to implement baby steps to change longstanding habits like portion size and ignoring your body’s hunger signals.  A coach can be helpful in supporting you through making your way to new habits that better serve  you. In other cases, if it is the right time for you to address it, you may need to see a professional therapist to help you move through what is weighing you down.  

The goal is to increase your awareness and take positive action. When you’re satisfied with your life and more accepting of yourself, the chances of overeating is likely to diminish. Over time you’ll see food as an enjoyable source of fuel rather than a coping mechanism, shedding some excess pounds and looking fitter and healthier along the way.