Whit Dane

How to handle emotional eating?

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I am halfway through my third Whole 30 (first was about a year and a half ago). I've done well following the program for the last few weeks, but this week, faced with family responsibilities that took an emotional toll, gave me less time to focus on planning my meals, and decreased my sleep, cravings raised their ugly head. I broke down and ate a bag of potato chips. Even though I knew exactly what was happening, that my emotional, sleep deprived state was pushing me to comfort myself with food, I felt like I couldn't stop it. I rationalized that the actual foods weren't breaking the rules. Afterwards I didn't feel bad physically, but I knew it was reinforcing my use of food to comfort negative emotions. In retrospect, I think if I would have had more of the right foods in the right amounts in the couple of days leading up to it I probably would have been able to resist the urge, or maybe I wouldn't have had it at all.  But, inevitably, life happens and it's hard to be completely in control of all your foods all the time. I would like to know how other people experience urges and how you deal with it when it feels overwhelmingly strong. 

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Distraction, usually. A few years ago, I went to a pain psychologist, and she had me make a list of things that were soothing to me, and urged me to draw from that list when the pain was getting to me mentally. I find those same self-soothing techniques work for emotional eating. Cuddling up with some tea and a soft blanket; a bubble bath; a book...Your list may look different, but I'd suggest working on one. Keep it handy when the urge strikes. Generally after 10-15 minutes, that urge will pass. Best of luck!

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Cravings can feel super intense but if you sit with it for a bit you'll likely notice that it comes in these little waves. Sometimes the waves are only seperated by a second or so but it's not constant, the brain doesn't work that way. You have to get through the wave and that's where the distraction techniques work because you need to redirect your brain. Even just standing up or moving from where you are helps to break that wave.

Preemptively the way to dial down craving intensity and frequency is to make sure you are eating enough at meals (eg, easily going 4-5 hours between meals) and that you are prioritizing sleep as much as possible. Ghrelin (a hormone) is in charge of our cravings for carbs and sugar. When we are underslept, the body makes MORE ghrelin, thus increasing the brain's push to get carbs or sugar. That could be why you felt like you simply couldn't stop eating the chips. In those cases, the absolute best thing you can do is just go to bed.

For emotional eating, unfortunately there's no simple fix. You just have to get through it and understand that when you don't have food available to numb the emotions, that you might feel them more often or more intensely than you're used to. And then give yourself the grace and space to do so. We use food to numb our feelings so much that it's almost a societal norm. Bad day at work? Wine. Kids being bratty? Cupcake at bedtime. Fight with husband? Sneak eating chocolate in the bathroom. The reality is, those feelings are there to help us navigate our lives and if we just continue to stuff them down with food, we are doing ourselves and our relationships a disservice. Good for you for realizing why you were eating the potato chips and then reaching out to talk about it! Well done! :)

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