How to process your emotions healthily and stop emotional eating

Apr 05, 2022

Emotional eating has a host of negative impacts for those who are struggling with it. These are often dislike for the feeling of being out of control, disappointment when clothes don’t fit or unhappiness looking at unflattering pictures. Alongside the fear of passing these habits onto children or grandchildren.

For me, (Joe) these included my frustration at being unable to deliver on the actions I so desperately wanted to, disappointment at not looking and feeling how I wanted to and embarrassment that I was doing the exact opposite of what I was telling my clients to do.

I felt like, and sometimes still feel like, I am in a glass house with a slingshot and a seemingly unlimited supply of rocks.

And before we talk about how to make progress. Let’s be clear. I’m far from perfect now. Last Thursday saw me eat a caramel egg, a Reese's egg, a pack of chocolate buttons, a galaxy caramel and a pack of cheese and onion crisps. 

It pains me to write this as I feel the hypocrisy bubble up inside.

But this is reality. There will be setbacks. “Failures”. Moment of struggle or weakness. We are all human and to suggest that you will come out the other side of this the model of perfection is setting you up for more failure and disappointment, 

I certainly believe zero emotional eating is possible. But I’m not there yet. And I’m probably years or decades away. I still get frustrated, disappointed, upset, bored or 101 other emotions and my mind immediately thinks food will solve or eradicate this. This will take some serious time to change.

This push towards food, that feels immediately satisfying, only to be left with the same trigger emotion with a side serving of overfull, bloat and frustration shortly after.

If this is ringing a bell then hopefully the advice that follows will impact you as it has impacted me.

Having a healthy, easy way to process your emotions will help reduce emotional eating.

I have a series of questions I ask myself, (in the form of a google sheet) that I fill in to help me understand what is going on.

What are the emotions I am feeling?

What does this feel like?

Why do I feel this way?

What is a healthy way to process these feelings in an ideal world?

What would I like to eat?

How many calories would be in that? How would I feel after?

Is there a different way to look at this situation?

The google sheet takes me on a journey from identifying thoughts, feelings and emotions and enables me to understand more about myself, what is going on and gives me a simple method to process these things.

Like a pressure valve this takes the steam out of my mind and body. This is a healthy processing of emotions and, as if by magic, I either no longer need to eat, I don’t emotionally eat anything at all or I moderate my intake successfully.

And why didn’t it work last Thursday? Because I chose not to do it. 

How did that feel? It felt good while I was eating! And after that 3 minutes I was frustrated and regretful. It hadn’t been and wasn’t worth it. It took me further from my goals and is the reason I feel like a hypocrite typing this.

No one emotionally eats once and finds a solution immediately. That’s just not how it works. It’s not a direct line from A to B but a shifting maze. Sometimes tactics work, other times they don’t. But we must move further into the avenues that do work.

I think we all know that bottling up emotions and hoping they pass without incident is hopeful at best. The reality, for me at least, is that it never works and things have a habit of springing up when I least expect them to.

My advice for you is to have a person or notepad, (electronic or manual) to express what is going on in your world to. I don’t believe you can think your way out of this. 

Emotional eating is a problem caused by thoughts. As such we can’t think our way out of problems that thinking got us into. We need alternative methods to solve the problem. It’s like trying to dig your way out of a hole.

You didn’t start emotionally eating because you found a healthy way to process your thoughts and feelings. I’d bet my dachshund you started emotionally eating because the emotions were too much for you to handle in your own head.

And what do you have to lose? I appreciate this can feel uncomfortable and foreign to most. Writing can be the most comfortable place to start as it’s easy to throw away your scribbles or delete the note on your phone.

You may well find that you are eating before you remember to process the thoughts. This just takes practice and processing the thoughts after eating may be the easiest place for many to start. Obviously if you can do this BEFORE you eat you’ll have a better chance of overcoming the emotional eating. But this would be a better place to start than disregarding the exercise.

Progress over perfection.