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Emotional Eating

Stumped about emotional eating?

Have you been on a diet roller coaster before, following some regimented plan that helped you lose weight, only to gain it all back and more?

If so, there’s a chance you’ve struggled with emotional eating.  Many types of regimented plans that focus only on calories, working out, and simply eating less fail to address the root causes of emotional eating.

As human beings, we are generally terrible at self-assesing whether we’re emotional eaters.  Many, if not most, of us are blissfully unaware of our emotional eating patterns.  Those of us who are aware of some emotional eating pattern may still not understand the full extent of it.

There’s a good reason for this: there’s an inherent triple-bias that prevents us from being able to determine how our eating is affected by our emotions.  Here are the three biases that come into play:

  1. We tend to misrepresent our emotional state when asked to recall it retroactively. “Emotional ratings are also highly sensitive for recall bias (Barrett, 1997) and include risk for under- or overestimation of emotions.”
  2. We have a tendency of under reporting our caloric intake, whether consciously or subconsciously: humans, by nature, tend to “downplay their caloric intake.”
  3. We are also unable to draw precise correlations between our emotional states and our caloric intake: “people are often unaware of the impact of hot states on their .” (“Hot states” in this context refers to heightened emotional states).

How, then, can we address emotional eating if we’re wired to not fully understand its extent or root cause?

With mindfulness.

Mindfulness can mean many things, but for me, it is simply “the act of giving your undivided attention to the present moment.”  This sounds easy but can be exceedingly hard, because as humans, our brains are big and complex, so we’re constantly reviewing the past in our heads: “How did that conversation go yesterday?  Was I awkward?”; and worrying about the future; “Will I have enough time to get from my first meeting to my second?  Is my presentation solid enough?  Will they think I’m stupid?”.  As we’re deep in thought, we’re neglecting one big thing – the present.  That means we’re often doing things on autopilot throughout our day.

Think about the last time you were on autopilot.  Maybe you found yourself pulling into your driveaway at the end of your commute, not remembering the drive because you were so lost in thought.  Maybe you found yourself feeling excessively full, not at all remembering what you ate or how much.  Maybe you found yourself finishing up your shower, not remembering a moment of what it felt like.  Autopilot robs us of the joy of the little moments in life; it also prevents us from critically examining what’s going on while our brains are elsewhere.

Bringing this back to weight loss journeys – mindfulness is a powerful tool to help improve our understanding of our own emotional eating patterns.  Here are some tips:

Mindfulness helps us be present and focused on the here and now.  It requires practice, though – much like going to the gym strengthens your muscles - mindfulness-based tools strengthen your ability to stay focused on the present.  It doesn’t come naturally to most of us, and it takes lots of consistent practice to build.  Meditation is one of the most powerful mindfulness-based tools, but there are others including breathwork, yoga, etc.  Being mindful can be part of your every moment, every day.  One of my favorite authors, Eckhart Tolle, wrote this quote:

"For example, [when] you wash your hands, feel the water. Smell the soap. Becoming acutely conscious of sense perception means looking, hearing, touching. It brings you into the present moment." 

It’s about treating each moment as precious, rather than as a means to an end.  Not only will this help you notice your emotional eating patterns, but also it will help you enjoy the little moments in life to the fullest.

At Sound Medical Weight Loss & Aesthetics, we help you on your weight loss journey by including mindfulness techniques to discover the root cause of your emotional eating patterns.  This holistic approach has helped hundreds of people achieve real, long-lasting success.

Author
Mariel Ilardi  Mariel became a weight loss coach with SMWL after being a patient herself -- having lost 65 pounds through the program! In addition to coaching SMWL patients, Mariel is the founder and CEO of Haven Coaching, an executive and career coaching company.

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