Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Halt Emotional Eating

Don't set the world on fire while you're changing your relationship with food.

Don’t set the world on fire while you’re changing your relationship with food.

This blog post was supposed to go out early Thursday morning but when I went to put the finishing touches on it Wednesday (last minute, of course!) we had a local internet outage that lasted several hours and by several hours I mean from about 12:30 until 6pm!! I love how easy technology makes our lives most of the time, but I really hate how much we’ve come to require it. So many aspects of my job depend on it and most things come to a halt when it’s not working. And when things aren’t working for me, I tend to have a total meltdown. I’m not very mature when things don’t go my way or according to plan. I didn’t know what to do with myself (luckily, there is always something that needs doing around the house! I took a forced break to house clean after my last client!)

This behavior translates into other areas of my life.

When things get tough, when I don’t understand something, when I hit a wall, I flip out and give up. I essentially set my emotional world on fire. Emotionally I’d just say “No way, not going to do this, feel this or experience this!”. I do this when I’m learning something and struggling with it. When I discover I’m wrong. When I don’t like an outcome. You name it. And in the past, I would turn to food to cope with whatever I didn’t want to feel. Whatever obstacle I encountered would be attempted to be climbed over with food. It was how I soothed bad feelings.

I don’t do that anymore. Or at least, I rarely do it now. And if I do catch myself reaching for food when I don’t want to feel something, I’m aware of it and can bring my attention to the feeling.

If you’re an emotional eater, I know you can relate to this. You probably have a bit of an “all or nothing” mindset yourself. If a little bit of something will help, then a lot will really cure it! Right?  Let’s burn it all down and start over! Because of this kind of thinking, and an inability to deal with uncomfortable emotions, emotional eaters tend to fall into several “traps” of the same nature when they are trying to stop eating emotionally. Instead of viewing it as a staircase where we make changes step by step on the way up, we try to leap from the bottom step to the top step without touching on the steps in between. We want to skip over the hard parts. We want to get from A to B without feeling uncomfortable on the way there. But that’s not possible!

I want to share a few of the most common mistakes people fall into when they are trying to halt their emotional eating in the hopes that you can avoid getting stuck in them like I (and so many others) have. Watch out for these!

Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Halt Emotional Eating:

  1. We equate getting better with being perfect. Healing from emotional eating does not mean you’ll never have another moment where you put food in your mouth for reasons other than hunger – it just means you’re making a concerted effort to eat thoughtfully and while fully present most of the time. Some days it will look really great, other days it’s going to be ugly. Don’t make too much of it. The day to day is really is no big deal.
  2. We get too dogmatic about the rules, tools and which teachers that can help. Some people need to eat mindfully 100% of the time to stay on track, others do better when they eat every 2 hours whether hungry or not. Some only listen to what Geneen Roth’s ideas or only Kay Sheppard’s or only Ellen Satter or only their Yoga teacher and are distrustful of anyone but their preferred “guru”. There are lots of teachers, tools and rules that can help you have a better relationship with food. You don’t have to subscribe to one and one only. Try to remain open minded and be willing to listen to the experiences of others, even if they’re different from your own. You never know when you might learn just another way to peace. And different tools and teachers will make sense for us at different times in our lives. It’s ok to change with time.
  3. Avoiding social situations that center around food. Don’t you dare kill your social life. If you want to heal your relationship with food, you have to be able to manage food in all settings and that includes socially. Consider each social situation with eating as a component as practice in figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Maybe you need to eat a snack before the event so that you don’t go overboard during. Maybe you need to eat cleanly and thoughtfully during. Maybe you need to eat exactly what you crave during so that you don’t go home and binge. Go to events. Eat. Be thoughtful about it. Let yourself be human and enjoy human things.
  4. Automatically banning the scale. Yes weighing ourselves obsessively doesn’t help and if weighing yourself causes you to feel bad or virtuous depending on the number that appears, then yes, you should try reducing your use of a scale (and dumping it completely in some cases). But if you’re one of those people who can weigh themselves and it’s entirely neutral for you, then it’s ok to keep using it as a guide. I find weighing myself several times a month gives me feedback that tells me if I’m on the right track in listening to my hunger signals and stopping when I’ve had enough. When it moves up or down a few pounds I don’t worry (normal fluctuations) but if I see if trending too far in any direction, I know that means I’ve gone off track and helps me bring my attention back to where it should be. When I’ve stopped weighing myself completely, I tend to go back to old eating habits and it has on more than one occasion resulted in unhealthy amounts of weight gained. So I keep the scale in my arsenal of tools. That works for me. It does not work for others. The only way you should keep using the scale as a tool is if it is no more upsetting than taking your temperature would be. When we take our temp, we either have a fever or we don’t. It doesn’t affect how we feel about ourselves or our body. Can you be that neutral with the scale? You need to decide what is the most loving thing to do for you.
  5. Thinking that it’s not worth doing if you can’t do everything. You may have great success when you first start implementing different tools and strategies to conquer your emotional eating. This is the “honeymoon” phase. Things will go well, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and then because this is real life, something will happen that throws you off your game. You’ll find yourself back at square one, resorting to all your old habits and when you get sick of it and want to get back at it, it won’t feel quite so easy to implement those tools back into your life. You’ll feel resistant and even resentful. You’ll wonder why you ever thought you could do this in the first place. You’ll think everyone who claims they healed their relationship with food is a fucking liar. Slow down. Take a step back. You don’t have to get yourself back to where you were when you slipped. That’s a huge hurdle! Just pick one tool or one strategy that was working for you before that seems doable and go from there. You will get to where you were before, but not by skipping any steps along the way. Just pick up the pieces one at a time!

You didn’t become an emotional eater overnight. It’s not like one day you were eating normally, competently and the next day you turned to food for comfort. It was a coping strategy that you adopted over time in response to certain situations. In many cases it developed over many years. We have to have patience in changing it. We have to accept that we’re going to stumble a little, slip a little and that it might be uncomfortable, sometimes painful and often ridiculously slow! Be cautious of falling into these traps, take your time and don’t judge yourself for wherever you are in YOUR process. This is your journey and you need to do it however makes sense to you.


How are you doing with you own emotional eating or chronic dieting struggles? Could you use some support? If so, contact me to set up a Discovery Session. It’s free.

Like this? For more, download your free copy of Healthy Eating Shouldnt Be a Workout:  Real Life Strategies to Take the Confusion Out of Healthy Living (includes recipes, snack and meal ideas, ways to save money and more!).

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