What’s Eating You?

Guest post by Gail McKenzie
(Photo by Darrin Hoover)

A food devil. That’s the feeling I get when I want to mindlessly eat, they are food devils. Relentless, little annoying feelings that don’t have any good end to them.

Why do we eat emotionally? Why can’t we just stop it and lose the weight?

All emotional eaters have one thing in common: they eat to deal with difficult emotions. Eating becomes a coping mechanism that helps them deal with life’s stresses.

There are also more specific reasons for emotional eating. Everyone is different and has unique reasons for their emotional eating episodes. Here are a few of them:

1) Stress Eating

When some people get stressed or anxious, they eat as a way to numb themselves or calm themselves down. This is similar to a smoker who lights up when stressed.

2) Excited or Happy Eating

Surprisingly, many people actually use food to calm themselves down when they get too excited or even happy. They may not be used to feeling so elated and this may frighten them. They eat as a way to tone down their feelings.

3) Boredom Eating

This is a big one. Many people grab something ‘exciting’ like a chocolate bar or some of the new flavor ice cream when they’re bored. Life can be monotonous sometimes – waiting in line, stuck in the house, doing a repetitive job you’ve done for years. Food is a way of adventure that doesn’t disrupt the status quo.

4) Event Eating

This is another big one. Many events (thanks to advertisers) have been tied to food.

Most people won’t even think of going to the movies without popcorn. And you can’t go to a baseball game without grabbing a hotdog or chips.

5) Self Critical Eating

Many people—especially perfectionists—are highly critical of themselves. They may eat as a way to numb themselves from the pain of beating themselves up mentally. For example, say they eat one cookie and then feel like they’ve strayed from their diet. They will then beat themselves up for hours. Eventually, just to stop the feeling of condemnation, the person gives in and ends up eating the entire box of cookies.

6) Depressed Eating

Many people who are depressed or feel sad turn to food as a pick-me-up. Sugar and the caffeine in chocolate are natural stimulants. However, it doesn’t address the problem and usually results in the person feeling even unhappier.

7) Lonely Eating

Food serves as your friend when you’re lonely. Again, this doesn’t solve the real problem and usually isolates even more.

8) Anger Eating

Some people eat as a way to express (or more accurately repress) their anger. Maybe they feel they can’t lash out at their boss or express anger to a spouse, so they stuff themselves as a way to deal with their anger.

Regardless of the reasons for emotional eating, to lose weight permanently we must learn new skills to cope with emotions.


So how do we beat the “food devils??

1. Raise your AWARENESS about your habitual eating behaviors. In a word, this means eat mindfully. Many people eat without thinking. For example, stress eating can be an unconscious pattern and you often don’t even realize when or how much you eat impulsively in response to stress. Three easy ways to raise awareness include eat exclusively, eat slowly, and keep a journal.

2. WATCH out for your emotional eating triggers. Every time you eat emotionally, there is a cause, or “trigger.” As mentioned above, stress is the BIG one, but the list of potential triggers could go on for pages and may include feelings (loneliness, frustration, sadness, etc), places (buffets, kitchen, etc), people (mom, spouse, drinking buddies), or events (parties, movies, weddings, funerals etc) .

3. ARREST the negative patterns when they happen. As you raise your awareness, you’ll shift from an unconscious, mindless eater, to a conscious, mindful eater. That doesn’t mean you won’t be assaulted with temptations and encounter trigger situations. However, once you are aware, you can interrupt the emotional eating patterns and think before you act.

4. REPLACE the old emotional eating behavior with more constructive alternatives. Nature abhors a vacuum. It’s rarely enough to simply stop an old behavior in its tracks. It’s important to replace the old behavior with a constructive new one. Alternative coping mechanisms can include all kinds of stress relievers (meditation, yoga, relaxing music, a Jacuzzi/bath/sauna, deep breathing, etc), a talk with a friend, and even exercise.

5. ESTABLISH new beliefs about food and the right reasons for eating. Food is for fuel, for feeding muscle, and providing energy. Although there are appropriate occasions to use food for other reasons, when you establish beliefs such as “Food is fuel” your eating behavior will be vastly different than if you habitually use food to cope with stress and bad feelings. This is why athletes and bodybuilders are rarely emotional eaters; they always view food as fuel, for energy and construction material for the body.


Whatever emotions drive us to overeat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and we may also now bear the additional burden of guilt about setting back weight-loss goals. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle — our emotions trigger us to overeat, we beat ourselves up for getting off weight-loss track, we feel badly, and we overeat again.

If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.


Gail McKenzie. Certified Personal Trainer and Christian Life Coach. Certified Nutrition Specialist, Yoga Instructor. CEO/Owner of Bodi By You, Semmes, AL 36618. www.BodiByYou.com




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