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Managing Our Emotional Eating Triggers
January 11, 2018
Like we’ve mentioned multiple times in the last few blogs, when and how much we eat is often decided unconsciously by our brain. Before we ever decide between the burger and the kale salad, our brains are already in the middle of a routine developed by decades of cultural, social, and emotional conditioning.
That’s why so many diets fail: we try to fight decades of behavioral conditioning with “willpower.” Our will is not only unreliable and inconsistent, but completely late to the party when it comes to decision-making. By the time you’re making a conscious decision, your brain and body have already picked up momentum. You might pick the kale salad once or twice…but if your brain is trained to want the burger, then that’s what you’ll choose more often long-term.
We don’t mean to be fatalistic. There is a solution. In fact, today’s blog is about using the momentum of your brain against itself.
But first, it’s time for you to get honest.
Grab a Notebook & a Pen
Today’s blog comes with a challenge. It doesn’t require you to eat differently or fight your food urges. If anything, it encourages you to pay attention those urges. What you’re going to do is record your Emotional Eating Triggers. See, our brains don’t just think of food as fuel—we attach memories, feelings, and security to what we eat. Comfort food isn’t just a phrase—it’s a real description of how food makes us feel. It’s why our moms, who might be mediocre cooks to everyone else, is the best chef in the world to their kids.
Here’s how it works:
- Carry the notebook with you. You can use a note-taking app in your phone if you like.
- Every time you have a craving for sugar or fat or something unhealthy, record how you feel and what immediately preceded the craving.
- You can fight or indulge your craving, but the important part is that you record it.
As you spend a few days recording when and why you were craving unhealthy foods, start looking for patterns. Had you just been handed a huge project at work? Were you given bad news? Did you just have a rough conversation with your wife, husband, mom, or dad? Were you just tired?
Recording what immediately preceded your cravings will help you understand the emotional roots of binge eating. Are you triggered by stress? Conflict? Exhaustion? When you understand your triggers, you can actively work to face those triggers in other ways—either through a replacement behavior or by addressing the emotional issue head-on.
Your Eating Is Not an Eating Problem
All things being equal, perfectly healthy and well-adjusted adults can manage their own diets without help. However, very few of us are perfectly healthy and well-adjusted. A study of 200+ obese patients found that half of them were victims of trauma—binge eating became their safety blanket. When you’re fighting your own unhealthy food choices, remember this: don’t punish yourself. Instead, learn to understand your choices. Then, and only then, will you be able to make different ones.
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