Healing Emotional Eating With Mindfulness

 
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Mindfulness is something of a buzzword these days. When concepts, words or disciplines become buzzwords they can lose their true meaning and power. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. When you are practicing mindfulness you do not judge the present moment, you experience it. When you are living mindfully, each moment of life as it is experienced just as it is unfolding in the here and the now. The ability to stay present invites you to experience your life in a meaningful way, where you are not simply responding to past experiences and stress or future worries. Engaging with the present moment is experiencing what is true right now.

When you are able to experience what is true right now you are able to acknowledge, feel and accept your emotions. The act of being mindful—of being completely engaged in the present moment—offers the opportunity to no longer act or respond to life out of your unconscious mental and emotional programming. When you step away from acting out of autopilot mode, you can begin to make conscious choices about how to live your life right now. When you are able to both be aware of your emotions and make a conscious choice, emotional eating becomes less overbearing and more within your conscious control.

While mindfulness may seem like a simple concept, it is definitely not an easy practice. While there are helpful apps, classes and books you can use to learn and practice mindfulness, having quiet time to be present and reflect on your experience of the present moment is where your power lies. The power is in the practice, not it in the learning about and studying the practice itself.

When you can experience your rich internal emotional world without hesitation or attempt to flee from any emotional distress or discomfort, your self-awareness grows. Through a consistent mindfulness practice, your ability to make a choice in the present moment is enhanced. When you practice mindfulness in a disciplined manner, over time, you free yourself from the binds of emotional eating. While this progression may sound simple, or too good to be true, remember that it requires these two elements that allow it to be integrated, over time, into your life: dedication and self-discipline.

When you bring the element of dedication to the practice of mindfulness you can offer yourself time daily to pause, reflect and release any emotions that are triggering your emotional eating. (You can read more about creating this personalized plan from a previous blog on this process here.) The importance of self-discipline is all about showing up for the practice, showing up for yourself and your emotions for the long-term. When you are fully conscious of your emotions, they become less uncomfortable and more of a message about your experience of your life. When you are more deeply connected to your internal emotional world, you can respond in an empowered way to your emotions and therefore not run from them, not attempt to escape them with food—or anything else that only serves to numb out your emotions.

To establish a mindfulness practice, it is best to start with one minute and then build from there. One minute of attempting to witness your emotions, thoughts, body sensations and external environment can feel like a really long time when you first begin the practice! After two to five days, increase to two minutes. Over time you may find that ten minutes feels really great! I recommend spending some time in reflection following the practice whether through journaling or simply acknowledging what the experience was like for you. I also recommend logging the minutes and making some simple notes about how you felt before and after the practice and any emotions or thoughts that arose, just to notice, not to judge.

As you apply this practice to food, eating, and further into your life, you will see how showing up for yourself in this way is empowering and freeing. You will see how allowing yourself to experience your emotions offers you valuable and deeply meaningful information about your experience of your life. Being mindful and emotionally aware allows you to make a choice about how to respond. Over time, food becomes less of a coping tool and more of a space where you can derive nourishment and pleasure. When you begin to integrate a consistent mindfulness practice into your life you open the opportunity to truly make peace with food.

Heal Emotional Eating to Heal Your Body and Yourself

 
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Emotional eating is a struggle for so many of us. It can dampen and diminish life in so many ways. Emotional eating causes you to not experience the full range of your emotions. Emotional eating often creates feelings of frustration and defeat related to unwanted weight gain. Overall, emotional eating causes a sense of disconnection from both your mind and your body. For so many that struggle with emotional eating, healing your relationship with your body can be the biggest challenge to overcome.

Body image issues run deep. A disturbing number of girls put themselves on a diet as early as the third grade. Many teenagers say that they want to lose weight to look more like images they see in fashion magazines or on social media. Most men and women say they feel insecure when they see celebrity images and other ads. This is not cool. Not only does the struggle with body image, insecurity and not feeling good enough begin quite young, many say that these stereotypes and feelings are often perpetuated within their peer groups and families.

Emotional eating can be driven by a negative body image and feeling less than, not good enough, or inadequate. These feelings create further uncomfortable internal experiences which will inevitably trigger more emotional eating. The first place to begin is to develop emotional awareness, which if you are unfamiliar with how to do this you can read more on several of my past blogs, one of them you can find here. When you are actively working towards emotional awareness and feeling more present and connected to your emotions and your life, it will be helpful to address the emotions that surface related to how you feel about your body.

How often do you complain about your body out loud? How often do you complain to yourself about or wish your body was different? How often do you judge other people’s bodies, either to yourself or to others? This is where you can begin to create the change you desire related to body image. First of all, if you are judging other’s bodies, practice thinking kinder or more neutral thoughts rather the negative biased thoughts. If you are talking about other people’s bodies, practice pointing out what you might compliment versus judge. When you treat others with kindness and respect and end the judgement thoughts and statements you can begin to heal yourself.

Working to heal your relationship with your perception of your own body may be more of a challenge than changing your perception of others. It starts with healing your relationship with food and feeling as though you are not intentionally harming your body or sabotaging your body with negative thoughts, beliefs and actions.

Even though you desire to heal the root cause of your struggles with emotional eating and body image issues, weight loss may be a goal for you. This can bring up additional uncomfortable emotions such as fear. You may be fearful of the attention that weight loss attracts. You may fear the line of questioning around your weight loss such as, “how did you lose so much weight?” or “what diet did you use?” and so on. You may also fear only being noticed for weight loss. You may fear being judged or even being more attractive to others and what that might mean. You may fear being considered “good” if you lose weight and “bad” if you gain weight. This is super complicated stuff. So to think a diet, a workout plan or even a few compliments will heal these deep-rooted thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions, think again. It starts with healing yourself. Food and even weight have only become metaphors for the challenges, fears and insecurities you experience.

Many of those I work with initially say that they want to lose weight. But really, as we dig deeper, they want to feel more confident about their body. They want to make choices that create a sense of control and empowerment within their lives. This is where the real work begins. You see, there is no diet that will offer anything more than a temporary feeling of accomplishment. There is no workout plan that will help you address and explore your emotions. There is no compliment that will change your mind about yourself or your body if you don’t believe it in your heart. 

When you set out to begin healing your relationship with food, your body and yourself, here are some important elements to consider. I recommend getting out a journal and spend time reflecting and writing down your answers to the following questions.

-What do you like about yourself?

-How do you want to feel?

-How has your past impacted your body image and your choices? (You can read more about your food story here.)

-How have comments from others impacted how you feel about yourself?

-How have certain food choices from this past week caused you to feel about yourself now, why?

-When in your life did you feel your best about yourself and/or your body, why?

When you take time to deeply reflect on yourself, your body, your thoughts, beliefs, actions and choices you can begin to know yourself more deeply. The more deeply you know and understand yourself, the more you can practice self-acceptance. When you reflect on your answers to the questions above, what stands out to you?

Now begin to determine your strengths. Take time to acknowledge what you like about yourself. Become very clear about how you want to feel—both about yourself and in general. Begin to work with these elements first. How can you use your strengths to empower yourself to take ownership over your choices. How can you use the positive attributes you can recognize about yourself right now to heal your life? Now move into awareness of your emotions (if you’d like to learn more about this process you can read more here). Practice noticing, accepting and understanding them. Move into a space of applying this same practice with food. Ask yourself with each food choice you make if that choice supports feeling a sense of self-respect and self-love.

As you grow in your ability to make healthy, intuitive and mindful choices relating to food, the next phase of healing is to move your focus into your body. While this may feel awkward in the beginning, integrate a time to practice being grateful for individual elements of your body. Practice looking at a specific body part, such as your feet, and express gratitude to them for walking you where you need to go. Focus on your heart and thank it for never missing a beat. Gaze into your eyes in the mirror and express gratitude to them for allowing you see all of the beauty of nature and those you care about. These practices of appreciation for all that your body can do will allow an internal shift of how you experience and care for your body.

When you offer your body gratitude, you are offering yourself a place to feel more accepting, loving and kind towards yourself. Allot time daily to engage in the practice of healing your relationship with your body and with yourself. I recommend keeping a journal through this process as you will begin to experience a powerful shift as you practice over time.

Another step to heal your relationship with yourself is to compliment yourself. Acknowledge when you working hard, and tell yourself that you appreciate this hard work. Acknowledge when you practice elements that are challenging and thank yourself for remaining dedicated even when it is hard. Acknowledge when you make a specific choice that you feel proud of allow yourself to really feel this pride within. Practice stating to yourself what you do like about yourself, what you are good at, what physical attributes you appreciate about yourself. Validate your feelings to yourself and be grateful to yourself for choosing the difficult path of healing as opposed to remaining stuck in a space of struggle and fear.

You see, you are not your body, but you do live in your body. You have to determine what kind of home for yourself that your body will be. Will it be one that you fight with, detest, complain about and harm? Or will it be one that you respect, treat with kindness, love, and deeply care for? As you treat yourself with care and make choices that support how you want to feel, you create an opportunity to transfer that care to your physical body. Conversely, when you are kind to your body, you are creating a deeper kindness for who you are at the core of your being.

As you heal, your relationship with food will transform. Over time, you will not judge, restrict, binge or complain about food. Over time you will treat your body and mind with the respect and care that they deserve because you will feel your worth and have a longing for this deeper well-being.

When you work with these practices I would love to hear about your experience. If you find these concepts to be overwhelming, you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out for support either from me or from someone you trust. Know that there is hope for healing.

4 Common Causes of Nighttime Eating and How to Effectively Manage Them

 
Nighttime Eating Causes and Management
 

Nighttime eating is a major concern for many people who have a conflicted and difficult relationship with food. Nighttime eating typically indicates one of the following imbalances:

1.    Nighttime eating may indicate that you are a chronic dieter. If you significantly restrict calories your body will crave nutrients and calories at the end of the day.

2.    Nighttime eating may indicate that your blood sugar is out of balance. This will cause cravings at the end of the day. 

3.    Nighttime food cravings can indicate that you are an emotional eater. Unstructured time in the evening can trigger emotions and stress that cause uncontrollable emotional food cravings.

4.    Nighttime eating may indicate that you are stuck in a deeply engrained habit pattern of eating at night that can be effectively changed with desire and effort.

If you struggle with nighttime food cravings and nighttime eating, it is most likely a combination of more than one of the above possible reasons. 

Let’s begin by addressing nighttime eating problem number one. Restricting calories during the day and the chronic dieting mentality can cause intense food cravings. Here’s the thing, dieting is not a sustainable form of weight loss—in fact—studies show that chronic dieting causes weight gain! The weight loss industry has based their marketing on the premise that they can make you feel as though you do not know how or what to eat. The dieting industry makes you feel as though you are out of control and in need of someone or something else to be in charge of your food intake. While this may work temporarily (for weight loss, NOT necessarily for health), what happens when the diet is over? (Hint: usually a dangerous cycle of binge eating or overeating after an extended time of feeling deprived.)

If you have been significantly restricting your caloric intake, please know that it is simply not realistic long-term. If you find that you are hungry and unable to resist eating at night when you have restricted your food intake during the day, you are most likely having these strong cravings because you are indeed hungry! You also may be having these strong cravings because your body is trying to communicate to you that you are even malnourished. Your body is most likely craving energy and nourishment and your “self-control” reserves have been depleted and you find yourself eating and most likely in an out of control manner.

The most effective way to remedy this is to STOP DIETING! Start eating real, nutritious whole foods and begin to focus on healing your relationship with food through mindful and intuitive eating practices. Stop restricting and begin focusing on why you want a certain food and if that food serves your health and wellness goals. You can begin to add more nutrition to each meal during the day and notice if that helps reduce your cravings in the evening. Chronic dieting can contribute to blood sugar imbalances as well, which leads us to nighttime eating cause number two!

If your blood sugar is out of balance, it can cause strong food cravings at the end of the day. One cause for this imbalance can be when you start the day with a high amount of carbohydrates and sugars. This will spike your blood sugar early in the day and cause residual cravings all day long. The primary remedy for this is to add protein to your breakfast to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. Another way to manage blood sugar imbalance is to minimize taking in excess sugar, processed foods and certain carbohydrates (without being entirely or overly restrictive.) Balancing protein and fiber will help as well—vegetables that are loaded with fiber like leafy greens eaten with a healthy protein source can be very stabilizing and satiating.

Possible cause number three is emotional eating, which is often a major contributor to nighttime eating. Unstructured time in the evening can trigger many feelings. Some of the most common feelings that trigger nighttime eating are: stress, anxiety, boredom and loneliness. The most effective way to begin to manage emotional eating is to have a healthy, non-food-based outlet for your emotions. If you would like more guidance and support surrounding emotional food cravings you can check out my blog on the 5 stages of awareness here to guide you through becoming more emotionally aware. I also have several blogs dedicated to understanding and releasing emotional cravings and emotional awareness and food cravings, you can check out one here.

Emotional eating is complex and may be an area where you could benefit from support by working with a therapist. However, giving yourself an outlet will help to identify the feeling and then make a choice on how to respond to the feeling. Once you can recognize, name and understand the trigger for the emotion you are experiencing, you can create a new outlet for your emotions. Learning to be present with them rather than eating them away and numbing them out with food is essential. This part of the process is definitely not easy. Give yourself time to process your feelings through journaling, talking about them, and/or doing something creative to release them in order to have a place for them to be acknowledged, respected, understood and released.

Now onto scenario number four, nighttime eating as a long-standing habit. If you have had the habit of having a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine while unwinding in the evening or having dessert every night regardless of whether or not you are hungry, this can indeed be a difficult habit to break. Creating a new habit takes time, effort, discipline and consistency to make happen.

You can begin by identifying the habit you want to change and determine your WHY. Why do you want to change this habit? Make it something that is truly important to you and involves your personal values. It is helpful to remind yourself of your personal WHY continually to remain motivated to maintain this change. Determine what you’d like to do instead of your typical nighttime eating habit. Preplanning an alternative to eating in order to take away the challenge of having to force yourself in the moment will help you to change this habit. Maybe you’d like to have a cup of tea, journal, read, knit—whatever it is—set yourself up for success by having this new evening habit ready to access.

Commit to one month of changing this habit. At the end of the month, take time to reflect on how it goes. What has changed? How did this change impact you? How did it impact your health? How did it impact your self-esteem and your self-image? This is important stuff to notice! Not to sound like a broken record, but I will anyway—if you are truly hungry, allow yourself to eat—just ensure you are not mindlessly eating out of habit, boredom or otherwise.

Nighttime eating is pervasive and many of us struggle with this challenge and yet most people don’t share this struggle with others. Many people feel ashamed and maybe attempt to hide it. Awareness is the first step. If you feel you could benefit from support, reach out! The upcoming Finding Freedom From Emotional Eating Online Group Coaching Course will help support you through challenges such as nighttime eating and emotional eating! You can learn more about this course here.

I hope these methods help to bring more awareness to the why behind any nighttime eating and that these steps will help you begin or continue your journey to make peace with food as well as with yourself.