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12 Weird Tricks to Conquer Emotional Eating

Here's how to cope when you are emotionally eating to feel better or because you lack the confidence to accept a healthier you.

Photo Credit: auremar


Your brain's been hijacked! You just blindly shoved a sweet, crunchy chocolate into your mouth. For a moment it gave you satisfaction, soothing and other yummy sensations. But then came the guilt: "I did it again! Where was my will power?" You weren't even that hungry. How did that even happen? Feeling powerless to control your cravings, instead, you gave in to them. Can you make a different choice next time? Of course you can, and you will. Read on to learn how.

Emotional eating can begin in childhood, when food becomes your parents' favorite tools of distraction and reward, wielded in response to various emotions and behaviors that you exhibited. As a baby, they silenced your cries with a bottle. As a child, they rewarded your good behavior with candy, snacks, ice cream and various sugary desserts. As an adult, you may find yourself eating certain junk foods just because it reminds you of some happy childhood memory.

Holidays and special occasions invariably revolve around food. There, you overeat for pleasure as a way to emphasize the festivity of the holiday, to fully enjoy it and "take it all in." Or you may use food for comfort and distraction, to ease the pain and soothe yourself at a tension-filled family gathering.

Food can also be a way in which you subconsciously self-sabotage. It is your brain's job to protect your identity and your belief systems. When reality does not match your perceptions, your brain will do everything it can to resolve the inconsistency. If you see yourself as fat and unworthy, when you start losing a few pounds and gaining some momentum with your diet, guess what? You will fall into self-sabotage and overeat. Your unconscious mind is "helping" you bring reality and your self-image into alignment. To explain it another way, think of your brain as if it were a thermostat. When you set a thermostat, the heater or A/C kicks in to adjust the temperature accordingly, and that temperature is maintained indefinitely. Similarly, if your mental "thermostat" is set to you weighing 170 pounds, when you drop to 135 pounds, your brain's thermostat will revert to self-sabotage to bring you back to the weight you imagine/expect of yourself.

Food can be a coping mechanism for trauma. Your extra fat might be a physical representation of the emotional shield that you built around yourself. When you start shedding it, it can trigger you to feel unprotected and overly vulnerable. Thus, you build it back up.

The power of our subconscious is exploited constantly by the food industry in their marketing. They perfect the taste, smell and texture of the food in order to keep us addicted. Eating becomes about coping instead of nourishment. "You're not you when you're hungry," according to Snickers. "Come hungry, leave happy," promises IHOP. "Every dinner should feel this good," says Stouffer's. Who wouldn't want to "Cheer up your lunch" with Oreos? The list goes on and on. It's insidious. (The bestselling book Salt Sugar Fat is a great read on U.S. food companies exploiting our emotional eating.)

Whether you are emotionally eating to feel better or because you lack the confidence to accept a healthier you, read on for 12 tips that will help you master your emotions and conquer emotional eating.

1. Change the story you are telling yourself.
You are talking to yourself all day long. Not out loud, but inside your head. That little voice never shuts up! It incessantly overanalyzes, self-criticizes, disempowers and misinterprets. If the erroneous story you tell yourself is "I feel deprived when I avoid eating snacks," then change it to something more empowering like "I'm proud of myself for taking care of my body and saying no to these unhealthy snacks!" Making a conscious choice to change the story you tell yourself will change your brain's interpretation of the situation and induce positive emotions. It sure beats the flood of negative emotions that the old story would have induced. This takes practice, so don't give up when you slip back into the negative self-talk! Simply jump back on the wagon. For those of you into psychology, you may be already familiar with this re-framing technique as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

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