Written by: Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Kim Feinstein, Red Mountain Weight Loss®’s Behavioral Weight Loss Specialist
- Have you ever eaten a box of cookies or a pint of ice cream after arguing with your spouse or significant other?
- When you are stressed and under pressure at work, do you tend to eat an extra slice (or an entire pie) of pizza?
- When you feel sad and/or lonely, do you tend to eat brownies, chips, or your favorite “forbidden” foods?
- Do you eat as a way to get through a difficult time (financial problems, relationship struggles, job loss, illness, etc.)?
If you have answered yes to one or more of the above questions, it is likely you are stuffing your emotions with food. Emotional stuffing is when you reach for food to “stuff down” your negative feelings (i.e. stress, anger, sadness, loneliness, guilt, boredom (or any other negative emotion). Eating often feels good temporarily but the feelings that prompted the eating are still there and the real underlying issues are never acknowledged and addressed. And worst of all, this destructive habit often sabotages your weight loss efforts and leads to significant weight gain. Over time, emotional stuffing erodes your self-esteem by perpetuating feelings of frustration, guilt, shame, inadequacy, and hopelessness. Why? Because after you stuff your emotions with food, you most likely feel guilty for messing up your diet and not having more self-control. You feel increasingly helpless and powerless over your feelings and food.
If you are like most who have been fighting this fight, I am sure you are tired of the struggle! It is truly exhausting! Please know you are not alone. In fact, research suggests 95-98% of diets fail due to emotional stuffing. Also of significance, emotional stuffing has the potential to spiral into type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and heart disease, and obesity. If you don’t stop stuffing your emotions with food, you won’t be able to lose weight and manage your health.
So, now is the time to stop stuffing your emotions, lose weight, and get healthy! Knowing that you want to stop stuffing your emotions is one thing. Figuring out how to stop is another. Below is my 2 Step Strategy to end emotional stuffing.
The 2 Step Strategy to end Emotional Stuffing:
Step One: Be Aware.
Much of emotional stuffing is so unconscious that it happens automatically. Before you attempt to change this habit, keep a journal. Write down with whom, where and when you stuff your emotions. The office? Late at night? When you are alone? When you are tired, sad, anxious, angry, lonely, or bored? Are there any patterns that you notice? Is there someone or something that triggers you?
Step Two: Feed your Emotions Without Using food!
Once you become aware of your emotional stuffing triggers and patterns, you can learn to feed your emotions without using food. If you stop stuffing your emotions with food, you have to put something in its place. Create a list of non-food related activities and alternatives to food that can help you tolerate those painful feelings. Below is my emergency cheat sheet to use for quick reference. Feel free to create your own version.
If you are feeling lonely and/or sad:
- Call or go out with a friend or family member who will evoke a positive emotion.
- Spend time with your children
- Write an email to a friend or family member
- Read magazines or a good book that will make you feel better
- Play with your pet
If you are feeling anxious and worried:
- Discharge some of that nervous energy by going for a walk or going to the gym
- Practice yoga
- Do a breathing exercise
- Squeeze a stress ball
- Smell and/or touch something that soothes you
- Listen to music that evokes a good feeling
- Clean a room in your house
- Take a hot bath
If you are feeling bored:
- Read a magazine or good book that will capture and sustain your attention
- Create a play list on your smart phone or ipod
- Participate in an activity that you enjoy (i.e., scrapbooking, art, walking, swimming, yoga, etc.)
- Take a hot bath or shower
- Watch a movie
If you are feeling angry:
- Talk to a friend or loved one
- Take 5 deep breaths
- Recall a very happy time and imagine yourself in it again
- Punch a pillow
- Vent to a loved one
- Go for a walk
So many of us are uncomfortable feeling and tolerating our emotions. We fear that our emotions will paralyze us or break us in some way. So what do we do? We look for food to stuff them down. The longer you have been emotional stuffing, the more automatic this behavior becomes and the less you believe you can handle life’s challenges without food.
As you already know, if you are stuffing your emotions, you are interfering with your ability to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. So, the next time you want to reach for food to stuff your emotions, try reaching for an alternative activity listed above. Don’t try harder, try different!
You can do this.