How to avoid emotional eating at Christmas

For many of us Christmas is a challenge; it forces its way into our lives and pretty much turns our routines upside down. Even if you are not directly affected by the festive hiatus, Christmas hits you at every turn with sweets and other 'tasty' offerings for sale, and then the heavily discounted offers post-Christmas.

It is often an excuse or a trigger for emotional eating, and Motivation Weight Management covers it with the level of detail you will need to both understand and deal with the issue.

Turning to food for comfort — either consciously or unconsciously — when stressed, anxious, bored, or upset is a long-standing habit that goes back to our very beginnings. What were we given when we cried as babies? We were fed milk. We know that food hits the pleasure centre of the brain, also known as the reward circuit, which includes all kinds of pleasure, from sex to laughter to certain types of drug use.

The problem with emotional eating is that it can seriously sabotage our weight loss efforts, causing us to gain weight or even stand still — disheartening when we really had worked hard all week or month. Not only that, it triggers intense feelings of guilt and defeat which, in turn, can lead to wanting to throw in the towel when it comes to weight loss goals.

If we stop and think about it, we will tend to notice that these slips usually happen when we are at our weakest point emotionally, or when we have had a particularly hard day. They are very different from ‘treats’, which are often carried out under much more controlled circumstances. An emotional eating slip usually involves a specific food craving, such as those from the sugar/processed category (the reality is, if we were truly hungry, a banana would do the trick ).

There are four steps to help banish emotional eating for good, and each week for four weeks Motivation Weight Management will look into each in detail.

1 ) Check in with your emotions: Have a conversation with yourself. It is time to start becoming much more aware of yourself by ‘checking in’. It may feel strange at first, but it is the only way to start unearthing those uncomfortable emotions that you have been trying to suppress.

Discover, firstly, what emotion are you actually experiencing? There are so many to choose from… stress, rage, fear, anxiety, rejection, jealousy, shame, sadness, or others. Tough emotions are experienced by every individual, just as positive emotions are. We all have different life experiences so the frequency or intensity of those can differ. But eating our way through those emotions does not help. In fact, it only masks the problem and makes it worse.

Emotions can be scary, particularly if we have spent a lifetime running away from, or suppressing, them. We do not like how vulnerable they make us feel. But it is crucial that we start feeling this discomfort in order to move forwards. In fact, naming the emotion can bring it to the surface, and this has the effect of taking away its power. So you might say, ‘I’m feeling anxious’, or ‘I’m feeling incredibly frustrated’. Give it a go.

As the American philosopher Andrew Bernstein said: “The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.”

Accept and validate your feelings. Give yourself permission to have these emotions. Try not to judge yourself for having this feeling of anxiety, stress, boredom, or sadness. It is a feeling – let it in. The huge benefit is a deeper connection with yourself, and a reduction in this type of self-sabotaging behaviour.

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