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Emotional Eating and Weight Gain: 7 Tips for Breaking the Cycle


Is emotional eating preventing you from losing weight? Does it keep you from feeling like your most energetic, healthy self? And most importantly, does it cause you to feel guilt or shame that eventually starts the cycle all over again?

If so, you’re not alone.

Empowerment coach for girls and women, Frannie Foltz, knows firsthand how the cycle of emotional eating can impact your life. “For years, emotional eating held me captive,” says Foltz. “My childhood was riddled with abuse; as a result, fear, shame, and loneliness lead me to seek comfort in food. Food was reliable, readily available, and a legal drug of choice to numb my pain. And I was the one in control of how much I ate, when, and where. By 21, I tipped the scales at 294 pounds.”

While many people think the cycle of emotional eating can be broken by just willing themselves to stop reaching for junk food, it’s important to understand that the root cause is, by definition, emotional

Here, we’ll look more into emotional eating and 7 ways to break the cycle.

What Is Emotional Eating?

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Emotional eating is a form of disordered eating that involves consuming large quantities of food—usually comfort or junk foods—to cope with difficult emotions.

It is a highly common cycle that most people have fallen into at some point in their lives.

Firstly, it’s important to understand why we eat emotionally. The main reason is because food has a true physiological effect on our mood—whether it’s a temporary blood-sugar increase from carbs or a spike in serotonin thanks to chocolate or sweets.

Not only that, but many of us are taught as children that sweets or treats are “rewards” for good behavior.

Why Do We Do It?

We eat emotionally because it’s a maladaptive coping mechanism for getting what we really want: love, security, or comfort.

While some people struggle with emotional eating during specific circumstances—maybe a stressful week at work, a frustrating meeting, or a bad breakup—others spend years of their life battling the constant urge to heal deep, long-lasting emotional wounds with food. 

The good news? There are ways to break the cycle of emotional eating and heal both your physical and mental health.

Breaking the Pattern of Emotional Eating

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Foltz says it took an emotional and spiritual journey for her to break her emotional eating cycle and lose weight—120 pounds, to be exact—which she has kept off for nearly two decades.

“I finally began recognizing the pattern that when my emotions were triggered, my self-destructive eating patterns kicked into high gear. In time, I identified fear as the common emotion of all of my triggers—I was afraid of love because I had been hurt in the past, so I even feared loving myself. My body was heavy because my heart was heavy.”

With this awareness, Foltz created practices to combat her bouts of emotional eating when fear reared its ugly head.

“When negative thoughts entered my mind, I began replacing these destructive thoughts with positive, constructive thoughts so that my body would take the signals from my mind. Instead of thinking, ‘I need a Snickers now!’ I trained my brain to ask, ‘How is a Snickers bar going to make you less afraid?’”

In essence, Foltz learned a valuable lesson: you can’t deal with the physical weight until you deal with the emotional weight. 

But how do you even begin to deal with the emotions at the root of the problem?

The following are 7 ways to break the pattern of emotional eating and get your mind and body back on a healthy track.

1. Assess Your Emotional State

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Whenever you reach for junk or comfort foods, take a five second pause and ask yourself: “How am I feeling?”

If you feel stressed, angry, bored, lonely, or low, give yourself a moment to pause. Write down three healthy ways you can make yourself feel better, and do one of those things before you eat.

This helps break the pattern of (even subconsciously) numbing your pain with food.

2. Identify Your Triggers

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Once you’ve realized that you may be using food to cope with a specific emotion, identify the event or events that trigger the emotion.

It could be something from that day, or even a deep wound from childhood. This helps you be aware and then prepare you for when you may be confronted with the trigger again. For Foltz, holidays were a major trigger she identified.

“At every holiday fathering, my great aunt Mary would ask, ‘Why aren’t you married yet? What are you doing wrong?’ Knowing I was going to see her at the next holiday allowed me to prepare mentally and even script a response beforehand.”

3. Find a Supportive Tribe

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Surround yourself with friends who like to be active and who can support you when you have “one of those days.”

Call a friend and ask her to join you for a walk, a barre class or anything where you can engage with one another and find comfort in a healthy way instead of reaching for the chips.

4. Create a Daily Mantra

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Foltz suggests creating a mantra you repeat daily, not just when triggered.

“Wallpaper your world with it. Post-it to your makeup mirror, save it as a screensaver on your phone, write a note card and clip it to your sun visor in your car. You will begin to believe your affirmation, which will manifest into living it.”

5. Indulge in Healthy Comforts

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Usually, emotional eating occurs when we are seeking comfort, love, or security.

Try making a list of “healthy comforts.” It can include things as simple as taking a hot bubble bath, journaling, calling a friend, going for a walk, or listening to music.

Taking care of yourself is all about identifying how you can get your needs met in healthy ways. View these methods of self-care as ways to nurture and comfort yourself without food.

6. Don’t Keep Binge Foods in the House

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It sounds simple, but if there are food items you’re more likely to binge on when emotional eating (potato chips, cake, cookies, etc) then do not buy them or keep them in your house.

Think of it as “out of sight, out of mind.” If these items aren’t around, you can’t be tempted to indulge.

7. Find a Change of Scenery After Eating

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Emotional eating can often occur at night after dinner, when we can’t quite satiate what’s bothering us.

So, after dinner, make it a point to walk out of the kitchen. Leaving the room will help change your mindset, and it gives you the opportunity to find something else to do.

When you become more aware of the emotions behind your excessive or uncontrolled eating binges, you can start to break the cycle of shame and overeating.

“The two most common emotions that drive decisions are love and fear,” Foltz reflects. “Give yourself permission to choose love and you will experience peace and smaller jeans, too!”

Sugar Detox: How To Quit Sugar In 6 Steps

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It’s hard to find the best way to quit sugar when it’s in so many of our foods! That’s why it’s important to cut back in a smart, sustainable way since doing it cold turkey can be pretty jarring for your body.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the sugar basics, why you crave it, and how to quit sugar without making yourself totally miserable.

Sugar Detox: How To Quit Sugar In 6 Steps

How To Start Working Out Again (& Stick With It!)

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Whatever the reason – lack of time, injuries, pregnancy, or just don’t enjoy exercise – most of us experience a lull in exercise at one point or another. Regardless, getting back to the gym after time away can be tough!

When you are ready to get back at it and stick to it for good, here are 9 tips to show you how to start working out again and stay with it.

How To Start Working Out Again (& Stick With It!)

Yoga For Beginners | A Complete Guide To Get Started

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If you’ve wanted to begin yoga but don’t know where to start, have no fear! This yoga for beginners guide has everything you need to succeed.

Learn the different types and benefits of yoga, as well as guidance on how to get started and choose the practice that works best for you!

Yoga For Beginners | A Complete Guide To Get Started

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