How To STOP Emotional Eating FOREVER

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10 ways to stop emotional eating forever with woman eating a big box of pizza picture

Emotional eating is hard to stop. But here are 10 ways to stop emotional eating forever:

  1. Have The Right Habit Mindset
  2. Getting The Basics Handled
  3. Study Your Emotional Eating Habits
  4. Change Your Self Talk
  5. Learn Your Lesson, Let Go Of The Guilt
  6. Small Wins Are The Standard
  7. Biggest Low Hanging Fruit – Your Breath
  8. Don’t Restrict; Everything In Moderation
  9. Be Nicer To Yourself 
  10. Reduce Stress

Before we dive into these techniques, it’s very important we talk about emotional eating and get clear what emotional eating is.

(If you want to skip ahead to the section with the techniques, go ahead – it’s about halfway down the article. I highly suggest you read the first half as I provide a comprehensive, big picture idea of how to truly stop emotional eating forever. Also, In this article I focus on WHAT emotional eating is, but I don’t really explore WHY you emotionally eat. )

On the surface, emotional eating is pretty easy to understand.  Emotional eating is when you eat not because you are truly hungry but instead to run away from your feelings and let food temporarily distract or numb you.

You might be totally full physically, like you just ate a big meal. Yet then you find yourself eating chips or outright binge eating on a cake. Whether you are overeating because of too many snacks or binge eating doesn’t matter. 

The key defining characteristic of emotional eating is that your emotions – especially your negative emotions – are driving your eating behavior, and not your stomach signals.

There are two basic reasons we emotionally eat:

  1. To get numb because your feelings make you feel uncomfortable. You eat food to numb yourself. A big pizza blocks any negative feelings you’re having in the moment. Food makes you feel better (temporarily).
  2. Your mind needs a way to stop thinking. By eating a ton of food, your mind also shuts down. Your brain turns off because the blood in your head goes down to your stomach to help with digestion. If you have been stressed out, obsessing and worrying all day then your brain is in an overloaded state. By shutting down your brain with food, your eating habits help you calm down.

In this post we will:

  1. First half of the article, examine emotional eating. You have to know how to differentiate emotional eating from real hunger. Once you can distinguish emotional eating then …
  2. Second half of article, 10 ways to stop emotional eating forever. I describe 10 different skills and tools you can use today to stop emotional eating. You’ll need to practice these skills in order to truly stop emotional eating forever.

How To Spot Emotional Eating 

There are many different ways emotional eating can manifest in your life:

  1. Weight Gain: You may have quit a weight loss program because you emotionally ate. You were doing good. But then your life got messy and you turned to food.
  2. Bad Eating Habits: Every evening after work you eat way too much food. You’re not sure what is going on.
  3. Boredom: You’re bored, even though we live in a world with tons of entertainment and stimulus. When you lack stimulus you feel bored and want food to provide some excitement.
  4. Emotional: You have a bad day. You feel terrible. You’re stuck in your head and very upset. Food takes your mind off your troubles and makes you feel better.

Do any of these situations ring a bell for you?

Or are you still unsure about emotional eating? If you’re still confused, no worries. Emotional eating can also be easily confused with real, biological hunger. 

How To Differentiate Emotional Eating From Real Hunger 

It’s very important that you can identify emotional eating.

Why is identifying emotional eating important? 

Because oftentimes emotional eating is done automatically due to habit, without conscious thought. If you can’t ‘catch’ emotional eating before it happens, you can never rewire your brain.

This means that in order to stop emotional eating forever, what you’ll need to do is:

  1. Know when you are about to emotionally eat before you eat.
  2. Practice one of the 10 ways to stop emotional eating forever.

(I’ll cover the 10 ways to stop emotional eating down below after we discuss how to catch emotional eating before you eat!)

The Hard Part Is Catching Emotional Eating Before You Eat

You sometimes are legitimately, physically hungry. 

Like if you haven’t eaten all day, it’s perfectly natural to be hungry and eat food in response to your physical hunger.

But other times you are emotionally hungry. 

Knowing how to tell legitimate, biological hunger apart from emotional eating is step #1.

If you can spot real hunger before you eat, then you’ll also be able to catch emotional eating before you eat.

The Broccoli Test To See If You’re Really Hungry Or Just Emotionally Hungry

The Broccoli Test is pretty simple.

It’s a simple question you can ask yourself to help confirm if you are emotionally hungry or physically hungry.

You just ask, “Am I hungry enough right now that I would eat broccoli?”

If your answer is “Yes” then you are physically, biologically hungry.

(Biological hunger is a natural thing, by the way. We were designed to get hungry and have our stomach crave food.)

If your answer is “No” but you still want something to eat, this probably* means that you are emotionally hungry. 

You’re seeking a distraction or something to numb yourself. You want to numb an uncomfortable feeling. Or you want to give your mind a break from thinking.

Ok, I’m sure you are starting to ‘get it.’

Real hunger is when you are willing to eat basically anything. For example, if you are starving to death, I bet you’ll be willing to eat a piece of broccoli!

But emotional eating is different.

Emotional hunger usually starts with a craving for a specific food.

Emotional eating starts when you can’t get a food thought out of your head. 

You might suddenly start thinking about cornflakes, and then you can’t stop thinking about cornflakes! Soon you are feeling like you must have cornflakes, otherwise you’ll go crazy!

Of course, emotional eating also occurs automatically without thought. You reach your hand into a bag of chips without thinking. The food is in your mouth before you know it.

The key difference between emotional hunger and biological hunger is that emotional hunger is specific. You want a certain food, but don’t want other foods like broccoli.

*But What If I Don’t Like Broccoli?*

Ok, I get it. The Broccoli Test is limited. 

It’s too simple. 

There are many situations where you could be physically hungry, but not want to eat broccoli. 

  • You may not like the taste of broccoli
  • Maybe you ate broccoli recently and don’t want it anymore 
  • Or you may just be kinda hungry, but still don’t want broccoli (nothing wrong with that)

How You Can Tell Physical Hunger Apart From Emotional Hunger?

Here is another diagram to help you distinguish between emotional eating and physical hunger.

Stop Emotional Eating Forever Step 1

Remember, there are 2 steps to stop emotional eating forever.

  1. Know when you are about to emotionally eat before you eat.
  2. Practice one of the 10 ways to stop emotional eating forever.

Right now we have just covered step 1. 

How confident do you feel that you’ll be able to spot when you are emotionally eating?

If you are reasonably confident, please go ahead and start reading about the techniques. 

Step 1 is very important – be sure to not skip it! Ok, we good?

Now let’s move onto step 2. 

10 Ways To Stop Emotional Eating Forever

  1. Have The Right Habit Mindset
  2. Getting The Basics Handled
  3. Study Your Emotional Eating Habits
  4. Change Your Self Talk
  5. Learn Your Lesson, Let Go Of The Guilt
  6. Small Wins Are The Standard
  7. Biggest Low Hanging Fruit – Your Breath
  8. Don’t Restrict; Everything In Moderation
  9. Be Nicer To Yourself 
  10. Reduce Stress

1. Have The Right Habit Mindset 

To stop emotional eating forever, you’ll need to change your habits.

This mindset is about the old phrase, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

It takes about 30-60 days to rewire your brain with a small new change.

If you make too many big changes at once, your brain will get afraid.

If you get afraid because you’re making too many changes, then you may revert to your old emotional eating habits.

You probably learned these emotional eating habits as a kid. These old brain patterns tell you “eat this food to feel better.”

In the beginning, resisting these voices will be tough. Yet with small changes done over time, you will succeed.

Basically the point of this first step is to have the right mindset. Make small changes. Be persistent. Find success with the small steps. Then build gradually upwards.

Let’s apply this habit strategy to …

2. Getting The Basics Handled

I’m talking about sleep, basic movement, and eating regularly.

These are the basic ingredients to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, if you just put your attention on really getting these basics handled, you may not even need anything else to stop emotional eating forever!

That’s right. Just by sleeping more, doing some basic movement, and eating regularly you can prevent all or significant parts of emotional eating.

We can say these three activities are your ‘baseline of health and happiness’. If you are getting the basics handled you have a high baseline.

Even if you get stressed out, you have such a high baseline you probably won’t succumb to emotional eating.

On the other hand, if you aren’t getting proper food, movement or sleep, then little annoyances can trigger you to overeat.

Let’s define these terms “sleep, basic movement, and eating regularly” real quickly:

What counts as basic movement? Going on a walk once you get home from work is a good example. This way you can release some stress from work before going inside and potentially eating.

For eating regularly, I just mean eating 3-5x per day. That’s 3 meals and a couple snacks. Don’t skip meals.

Sleep, don’t kid yourself. We all need about 7-8 hours or more of sleep. Yes, there are some people who are exceptions, but don’t pay attention to them. You need a bit more sleep than you’re getting, most likely.

Now remember, don’t try to focus on all these at once. Focus on one aspect for 30-60 days and actually make sure you are doing it!

You’ll want to increase your baseline gradually. But in the meantime …

3. Study Your Emotional Eating Habits

Here is how you study your emotional eating habits:

Right before you are about to emotionally eat… (perhaps by asking yourself if you are hungry enough to eat broccoli) ….

You ask yourself these 3 additional questions:

1. What’s really frustrating me?
2. What can I do about it?
3. What’s stopping me from going about it?

Try to be really specific here. Don’t just say “I’m having a bad day.” 

Be more specific and say, “I’m having a bad day because XYZ.”

When you can be really specific about what’s bothering you, you can then take specific action to help change your emotional state.

And let’s be clear – to stop emotional eating forever, you need to become adept at changing your emotional state before you eat.

That’s why the first part of this blog article was all about recognizing when you were about to emotionally eat.

Once you can spot the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger, then you need to do something about it.

When you emotionally eat, you are making an action to run away from the truth.

Sure, I know I’m sounding like a motivational speaker, but it’s true. When you emotionally eat you are running away from your feelings and letting food temporarily distract or numb you.

Of course, as soon as you’re done eating, all those good feelings vanish. The bad feelings come back. And then you want more food, to make those feelings go away.

Emotional eating blocks your feelings. But it’s like a mosquito. You can temporarily brush the mosquito away, but unless you kill the mosquito, it will come back and buzz around your head.

It’s the same with bad emotions. We have to learn how to handle, soothe, decrease, and manage our bad feelings. If you block these feelings up with food, then just like the mosquito they’ll be back and be more annoying than ever.

So start paying attention to what’s really causing you to want food in the first place. See if you can face that.

Leslie, my old Zen teacher, used to say, “Can you bear it?”

Can you bear facing the truth of what’s really stressing you out?

4. Change Your Self Talk

As you pause before emotionally eating …

As you study your emotional eating habits …

You will gain awareness. In particular, you will start to become aware of your thoughts.

You’ll also start becoming aware of how much additional stress your thoughts cause you!

For example, you miss a deadline at work.

You immediately feel embarrassed, worried and mad. Let’s pretend in this situation that your co-workers forgive you. In fact, they didn’t even care that you turned this assignment in late.

But once you get home from work you suddenly find yourself looking at piece of cake.

You’ve been practicing your skills to ‘identify when you’re about to emotionally eat’ so you catch yourself.

In this moment of pausing, you notice how horrible your thoughts are to yourself, even though it’s hours after you felt embarrassed at work!

You might catch yourself thinking:

– “You weak-willed worm!”
– “God, you are such a lazy fat ass”

When you catch yourself thinking these thoughts, you will need to practice changing your self talk.

Here is a ‘Change Your Self Talk’ exercise I’d like you to try:

Say, “Thanks for your opinion.” the next time your inner voice calls you fat, lazy, weak, a failure, or unworthy.

Remember, the negative inner voice is what you learned as a child. This voice does not reflect reality. That voice in your head is simply an opinion.

Now this is a complex skill to master. I get it. Changing your thoughts has been the subject of thousands of seminars.

Do you really need to master self talk to stop emotional eating forever?

No, you don’t. You just need to …

5. Learn Your Lesson, Let Go Of The Guilt

Let’s say you read this blog post and really take everything to heart.

I’m so happy for you, wahoo!!!!

But then you emotionally eat, again.

It’s easy to start beating yourself up, again.

It’s easy to lose hope, again.

What can you do when you can’t stop the guilt?

You have to learn your lesson and forgive yourself.

– Ask yourself, “What feeling was I running away from?”
– Think about, “What could I do differently next time?”

You have to break the situation down into tiny pieces.

For example, let’s say one time you emotionally eat. After some reflection you realize that you didn’t go on a walk that day. Maybe skipping your walk that day made you overeat?

So the next day you go on a walk. Yet in the evening you overeat, again.

This is when many people give up. But not you.

Because you’ll ask, “What could I do differently next time?”

Maybe you need to go on a longer walk. Perhaps you need more sleep.

The most impactful thing you can listen to is whether or not you are satisfied with your food, which is a key aspect of Intuitive Eating as well.

If you keep emotionally eating and aren’t sure why, this oftentimes is the hidden key that most people miss.

You keep learning by trial and error. This is the ultimate method to stop emotional eating forever. Good old fashioned trial and error.

And if you are doing the good old fashioned trial and error method …

(which I highly recommend!)

You gotta let go of the guilt. In this mindset, you try new things. Sometimes you fail. Failure is to be expected though.

You didn’t do anything wrong and have nothing to feel guilty about if you fail.

6. Small Wins Are The Standard

Here is your new standard of success:

– Success counts when you notice you are about to emotionally eat (even if you go ahead and emotionally eat after you’ve noticed, it still counts as a success)

– You win when you get a few more minutes extra sleep, walk a little bit or do a little bit of movement, or eat a few bites instead of skipping a meal entirely

– You win when you uncover the root feeling of what’s making you feel bad

– Success is when you try manage your feelings (even if you fail to manage them, it’s sincerely trying that counts)

– Huge victory when you uncover a piece of the emotional eating puzzle. You ask, “What could I do differently next time?” and then you try something out and it works. Huge victory!

Don’t only judge success in terms of whether you stop emotional eating.

If you want to stop emotional eating forever, then failure has to be part of your success.

If you learn from failure it counts as a small win!

7. Biggest Low Hanging Fruit – Your Breath

Admittedly, this stuff can be challenging. Life can be overwhelming.

When life gets super tough, one of the best strategies is focusing on your breath.

This is really simple and that’s why it’s so effective.

One great time to practice your breathing technique is when you catch yourself before you emotionally eat.

There’s a split second you have once you catch yourself. This is the time to breathe.

Because you have been emotionally eating for some time now, when you first catch yourself you might become upset.

When you first start to wean off emotional eaing, you will feel your feelings more intensely. With practice you will be able to tolerate your feelings more easily.

However, sometimes your emotions will feel too intense to manage and you’ll desperately want to have food to make those feelings go away.

This is when you practice this breathing technique:

1. Sit in a comfortable chair. Try to sit upright so as to give your belly and lungs plenty of air to breathe.

2. Place your hand on your stomach. When you inhale you should be able to feel your belly rising as you breathe in. As you exhale you should be able to feel your belly fall downward.

3. Try to relax your shoulders, neck and jaw once a minute.

4. Keep this up for 3-5 minutes. You’ll notice that your cravings have decreased.

(Bonus step: if you can catch any negative thoughts you’re having, just say “Thanks for sharing your opinion, I’m actually going to give myself credit for breathing and count this as a win.  Even if I do end up emotionally eating I have taken a small step forward and that’s what counts.)

8. Don’t Restrict; Everything In Moderation

Want to know how to trick yourself to automatically emotionally eat?

(Hint: Don’t do this!)

Just make an arbitrary “Pass/Fail” rule.

(Again, don’t do this!)

Here are some examples of arbitrary “Pass/Fail” rules:

– I should eat less than 1500 calories per day
– I will not have any more birthday cake
– Nor will I eat XYZ type of food
– I will eat XYZ every day
– I will exercise this amount of minutes per day

These rules might seem pretty common.

But in order to stop emotional eating forever you have to think about things differently and practice new skills.

That’s what Eating Enlightenment is all about.  In this framework you have to think differently from the mainstream and then practice skills in a compassionate manner within the new mindset that I’ve been talking about.

In this Eating Enlightenment framework, we are utilizing a wins-based approach based on learning.

And most importantly, we are throwing out the old ways of thinking like, “I will just count my calories”.

As an example of how you can think differently, here are some replacement guidelines:

– I should eat less than 1500 calories per day > I believe 1500 calories is a good amount for me on average. But I realize some days I’ll have more and other days I’ll have less. It’s ok to go over.

– I will not have any more birthday cake
> Birthday cake is delicious and I deserve to have birthday cake at celebrations. I know that I gotta be careful around birthday cake too. So if I find myself thinking about birthday cake in the middle of the day, I’ll hold off for a while and practice breathing. If I still want birthday cake I’ll give myself a slice. If I still want more cake then I’ll walk around the block to clear my mind and decide about the cake afterwards.

– I will not eat XYZ
> I can have XYZ if I really would like to. I know that if I don’t allow myself to have this food then I’ll probably eat it anyways.

Can you see how I changed the rigid ways of thinking to be more flexible? This is another skill to practice!

9. Be Nicer To Yourself

Perhaps this falls into the category of “Change Your Self Talk”

But the “Change Your Self Talk” was more about challenging your thoughts that were negative to you.

(Remember how we could say to our inner critic, “Thanks but no thanks”?)

This practice is about literally being nicer to yourself.

What do I mean by this? I mean, don’t focus on your thoughts, focus on the tone in which you think.

Your inner critic has a tone of voice, you know what I mean?

– Your inner critic might sound like a parent YELLING.
– Or, like an insidious enemy hissing in your ears after you eat a snack, “Psssst. You failed again.”

One powerfully helpful technique that many bloggers and therapists neglect to mention is changing the tone in which you speak.

Focusing on tone is oftentimes easier than changing your thoughts.

For example, try saying “Hi there sweetie, looks like you failed again.”

This can be a useful intermediate step before you change your thoughts.

If you just change your tone of voice, this might help propel you to then remember, “Oh yeah, there is no such thing as failure!”

Earlier, I showed how taking a more flexible approach to food is possible by using guidelines instead of rules.

To switch over to using guidelines, you can practice first by changing the tone of your thoughts.

In other words, be nicer to yourself.

10. Reduce Stress

Here are some ways to go above and beyond to take care of yourself and reduce stress.

As you continue going on this journey to stop emotional eating forever, you’ll need to spice things up every now and then.

When you ask yourself, “What could I do differently?” perhaps one day one of these ideas to reduce stress will pop into your mind!

Distract Yourself:
– watch a movie
– play a game

– take a bath or extra long shower
– go for a scenic drive

– call a friend and try asking for help or just vent
– try therapy

And that’s all for this article on how to stop emotional eating once and for all!

Please comment below with any of your thoughts and ideas!

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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