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  • Writer's pictureOrsolya Szathmari

"Breaking the Cycle: Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating"

a young girl eating colorful donuts

We all know that behavioural change is hard. Changing our diet can be extremely difficult. This is one of the biggest challenges with patients in nutritional therapy.

Eating is very emotional, we may link many foods and meals to memories from the past, especially from our childhood.

When we feel stressed, lonely, angry or sad we might turn to different comfort foods because we expect to feel better after eating them. These foods can bring back beautiful memories and good feelings. But these happy feelings will be very short lasting, and a sense of guilt and regret will overtake because of overeating unhealthy food. Does it sound familiar?

The fact is that food acts as a reward on the short term. When feeling bad, many of us will look for this reward to feel better for a short time before feeling bad again and need more reward. This is a viscous cycle that leads to emotional eating habits. We have to find out how to interrupt this cycle.

A successful lifestyle change begins with the first, small step. This is where we all need to start. Sometimes this first step might be the most difficult one to take. Getting over this first obstacle is the beginning to be successful.

Emotional eating is not about feeding our body but about feeding our mind. It is important to realise that eating will never fix our emotional problems. The real issue needs to be addressed instead. Even if we eat the food we crave, it won’t make the original problem to go away.

Let’s see the difference between emotional and physical hunger (source: Mayo Clinic):

difference between emotional and physical hunger

Common causes of emotional eating are stress, depression, boredom (lack of satisfaction with life), anger, loneliness, anxiety. But I am convinced that the root causes of food addiction, binge and emotional eating are different nutritional deficiencies. When our body lacks certain important nutrients, such as amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, it will crave more food to satisfy its needs. So the first and easiest fix is to focus on bioavailable, nutrient dense whole foods to make sure to fix all deficiencies. I encourage you to eat red meat, some liver, bone marrow and animal fat and avoid most plants and fiber that inhibit the absorption of the most important nutrients.

In my exprerience with my clients, the best way to overcome emotional eating is to do a strict elimination diet for 4-8 weeks, or longer if necessary. During this time I recommend to eat an animal based ketogenic diet high in fat, moderate in protein and free of carbohydrates. You will eat meat and fat of beef, lamb, goat or sheep. Eat a fatty steak or burger patty made of high fat ground beef seasoned with salt, twice a day and drink water. Add some liver and bone marrow every week. This elimination diet will give you a great chance to correct all your deficiencies and get rid of the reward you are looking for when eating comfort foods. You will feel much better and stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.

At the same time, you can also address your emotional problems in order to stop comfort eating. Identify your basic challenges and emotions to be able to fix them. Unfortunately this is not always obvious.

Once you are aware of your problem, you only need to find out how to fix it.

After realizing that you are an emotional eater, you can start with a mindful eating practice.

When you have a craving, instead of trying to force your willpower to avoid eating, just go for it. But do it slowly and mindfully and don't regret! This is an important point.

On the other hand, a better strategy could be that you find another activity that will give you satisfaction and a good feeling. So instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, a piece of cake or a bag of crisps, you could go out for a walk, hug your dog, kid or partner, do a few push-ups or any high intensity short workout.

When you feel that these things give the same results as eating, it will be easier to go on because you will be motivated and feel positive.

With these techniques you can reduce and later stop your emotional eating because you realize that the food will not make you feel better. You will notice that it actually will make you feel worse while the other activities above make you feel better on the long term.

Take this as a challenge and get excited about it. Get support if necessary. It is possible to overcome emotional eating, just give yourself a chance!

If you feel that you need more help, look for and work with an experienced specialist. You will see, it’s really worth it.

Good luck!


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