Do you eat when you get emotional?

Stop in and get some takeaway after a bad day at work?
Eat some ice cream after some bad news?
Poor yourself a few glasses of wine after a rough week?

We all do it. It’s something that makes us human – we make decisions based on emotion.

I know when something’s up with me, I just can’t be bothered anymore. It’s not like I choose certain foods to cheer me up, but at that moment, my goals just aren’t as important as they once were. I don’t care so much about my training; I just want to switch off and eat the most convenient meal I can.

It may be a little different for you. There may actually be foods that you turn to, to help cheer yourself up. They might remind you of a better time. They might provide a nice distraction.

No matter what emotional state we are in though, the calories you consume always count. And while it may seem like the right thing at the time, we are often left feeling disappointed, defeated and no better than we were in the first place.

So how can you stop it?

It takes some serious self-awareness. I won’t lie, it’s difficult. If you were hoping for some trick where you pinch yourself, spin around 3 times and then you want to eat a salad, this isn’t it. You have to really take stock of your situation and evaluate what the best decision is. This is something that is incredibly difficult when you are emotional.

First, you need to recognise when you are emotional. Once you recognise the situation, you can intervene. If you feel upset or angry on the drive home from work and are thinking to yourself “f#*k it, I’m stopping in at the bottle shop”, that’s your cue.

Stop and think about what has made you upset and why you feel this way. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself “will I feel better or worse after eating/drinking ………?”

Most of the time you actually feel worse. There’s enjoyment at the time, but it’s short-lived.

Also ask yourself “will this help or hurt my goals?”. While it may be hard to see the bigger picture at a time like this, keeping your goals in mind can help to tip the scales in your favour.

And finally, think about what will make you the most proud and happy with yourself. “Will I be proud of myself at the end of the day?”

If you still want to grab the alcohol or pick up some takeaway, then go for it. You’ve assessed the situation and accepted that you’ve pushed your goals back a little longer. Get right back on track tomorrow.

If you don’t, great! Prepare your food like normal or make the right choice and be proud of yourself. Seriously. Like you would reinforce good decision making in children, do the same with yourself. Be proud of yourself when you do the right things that are moving you closer to your goals.

Food Journal

If you like to see data and have something tangible in front of you, you can try journaling your feelings around your overeating.

After you’ve overeaten or you made an emotional decision about your food, write down your answers to the following questions:

  • What are you doing?
  • What are you thinking?
  • What are you feeling, emotionally?
  • What are you feeling, physically?
  • Where are you?
  • What time is it?
  • Who’s with you?

Answer all of those questions for 4 different time points:

  • 1-2 hours beforehand
  • Immediately before you overate
  • In the middle of overeating
  • Afterwards

So, for example, what were you doing 1-2 hours beforehand? What were you thinking 1-2 hours beforehand? And so on. Answer every question for ‘1-2 hours beforehand’, ‘Immediately before’, ‘In the middle of it’, and ‘Afterwards’.

So, 28 answers in total.

This helps to identify certain triggers and helps you to capture any urges or behaviours that you notice. Maybe it’s a time of day, or a situation. Maybe it’s a type of food, or another person (or being alone). Maybe it’s a feeling or even a combination of all of these.

Whatever the reason is that you overeat, there’s no right or wrong here. Just be honest with yourself and collect the data so you can paint a clear picture.

You’re not resigned to doing it forever. You can change.

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