Emotional Detox- simple tips

However, for a great many of us, the idea of ‘marking’ emotions with food gets confused with the idea of ‘moderating’ emotions with food. We turn to food for comfort when we’re sad, or ‘reward’ ourselves for minor achievements with a binge. ‘Emotional eating’ [1], as its termed, can have serious consequences. It’s frequently a major player in cases of obesity [2], and can easily lead to food addiction. If you struggle with emotional eating, don’t despair! It’s not always easy, but the problem can be overcome. Here’s how:

Identify Your Triggers

The first step towards tackling any problem behaviour is admitting it. But full admittance can’t come without a certain degree of understanding. Many emotional eaters know that there’s something wrong, but can’t quite pinpoint why their relationship with food is as messed up as it is. Try keeping a note of every time you eat, what you eat, and the circumstances surrounding your snacking. This can reveal patterns to which you would otherwise be oblivious. Understanding your triggers can help you to be prepare for them - meaning you’re less likely to be poleaxed by the urge to eat when it hits. If you find a pronounced tendency towards self-medicating behaviour when you’re stressed, upset, or otherwise struggling emotionally, it’s worth catching this early. Emotional eating is bad enough, but self-medicating with food may lead to self-medicating with substances [3] - and solving that problem is a whole new ballgame [4].

Look Into Your Past

A bit of self-awareness about your emotional eating can work wonders. It’s often surprisingly useful to peep into your past history with food. When did this problem start? Did anything in particular trigger it? Or has it always been there? Many of us form a subconscious connection between food and ‘good’ when our parents use sugary treats as a reward. This can lead us to seek out sugary treats when we want to make ourselves feel good again as adults [5]. This is not always the case, sometimes emotional eating develops for other reasons. Whatever your history with food, working out what’s going on in your subconscious when you see a doughnut (and why) really can help you to change things.

Don’t Block Your Emotions Out

Something many emotional eaters have in common is that they’re using food to try and alter or obstruct their emotions. They don’t want to feel bad, so they eat something (often, a lot of things) in a desperate effort to make themselves feel good again. Painful though it may be, one of the best ways you can stop this from happening is to let yourself feel your emotions. Don’t put your brain on hold and abandon yourself to food. Let your emotions in, feel them, work through them - and don’t try and block them out. This is hard. Nobody likes to feel bad. However, it’s often the case that, if we don’t acknowledge and properly process our emotions, they simply lurk in the back of our minds, growing ever more monstrous, until they rise up again when we let our guards down. Feeling them properly at the time, however bad it is, lets the emotions ‘out’ - so you’re much less likely to experience them in that intensity again. A good way to process your emotions healthily, without being tempted to block them with food, is to take a walk. Walking is fantastic for your mental health [6], and will give your brain the perfect conditions in which to sort through and process what you’re feeling.

[1] Julie Beck, “Our Moods, Our Foods”, The Atlantic, Mar 2014

[2] Susan J Torres, Caryl A Nowson, “Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity”, Journal of Nutrition, Nov-Dec 2007

[3] Andrew Steptoe, Zara Lipsey, Jane Wardle, “Stress, hassles and variations in alcohol consumption, food choice, and physical exercise: A diary study”, British Journal of Health Psychology, Feb 1998

[4] Detox.net, “Your Guide to Medically-Assisted Detox from Drugs And Alcohol”

[5] Aston University, “Rewarding children with food could lead to emotional eating”, Apr 2016

[6] James Gallagher, “Walking could be a useful tool in treating depression”, BBC, Apr 2012


Written By Missi Davis


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