“I’ll Have a Cheeseburger, Hold the Feelings”
Have you ever buried a bad day under an entire McCain Deep and Delicious cake, right out of the tray? Does the pizza delivery guy know you by name and even sends you birthday cards?
If so, you might be an emotional eater! But don’t worry. You may be downing that entire bag of Chips Ahoy by yourself, but you are definitely not alone!
Chances are that as a kid you were rewarded with ice cream for bringing home a good report card, denied dessert if you misbehaved, or got a lollipop from the doctor after getting a shot. Maybe you weren’t allowed to leave the dinner table until you finished your plate, hungry or not.
Things like that were pretty common back in the day (and still are). And if I’m being honest, I’d probably give a crying child a lollipop too. It’s almost a reflex!
Unfortunately, these practices often lead to negative food associations and desensitize us to hunger cues. The result is that we eat when we’re bored, we eat to celebrate, we eat because we cried at work and want to comfort ourselves with a tub of Chunky Monkey topped with whip cream… and chocolate syrup… and sprinkles… and Doritos? Whatever works!
The point is, it’s really common, most of us do it (even me!) and it’s an association we need to stop because it can derail our health goals and doesn’t actually make us feel much better.
I’ll be honest with you. This is a hard one to break. If food has been used almost your entire life to reward, soothe and even discipline, it becomes a deeply entrenched habit.
You need to replace the habit with something else that truly makes you feel good.
And preparation is key! Make a list of non-food things that make you feel amazing. Aim for at least 10 things. Things like:
Take a long, hot bath
Do your nails
Play a video game
Watch your favourite show
Call a friend
Get a massage
Take a walk or bike ride
Join a book club
Get a hobby car and rebuild the engine from scratch
Do a face mask (bonus: it’s really hard to eat with one of those on!)
Watch cat videos
Make cat videos
Get into photography
Organize a closet or junk drawer
Colour (Adult colouring books anyone?)
Listen to a podcast
Calligraphy, embroidery or cross stitch
Write an actual, pen and paper letter to someone
Take an online course
Do a jigsaw puzzle
Sketch, draw or paint
Try a YouTube makeup tutorial
Plan a DIY project
Listen to music
Dance in your underwear
Rage clean (at least it’s productive)
I guess… jogging… if you want.
Think of things you really and truly enjoy. Something that makes you feel really good to do, either because it’s fun, rewarding or give you a sense of accomplishment.
The next time you want chocolate, or pizza, or a Big Mac Trio with chicken nuggets and a McFlurry, really think about whether you actually want it, or if you’re craving it just to fill a void.
If you really do want it, it’s ok to treat yourself (occasionally).
If it’s all about that void, go for your list. Push yourself to try that first.
Unhealthy habits are hard enough to break. If you try to quit cold turkey, the cravings can get even more intense. Breaking a habit by replacing it with something you really enjoy makes it so much easier.
Soon enough, food won’t be your security blanket anymore! When you do treat yourself, you’ll enjoy the food so much more and even be satisfied with less of it because you’ll just be eating a food you like, not trying to fix that time Brenda gave you the side eye during your presentation (keep it to yourself, Brenda!).