3 steps to overcome anxiety and emotional eating successfully
In this article, I’m going to share with you the three steps I follow when I have anxiety, and how those steps can help with emotional eating (EmE).
Anxiety and eating
Anxiety and eating are closely interconnected and often influence each other. Food can be used as a coping mechanism when we’re feeling anxious. Comfort foods like sugar, fat, and starch seem to temporarily alleviate emotional distress because they can trigger the release of dopamine, providing a brief sense of pleasure and relief.
As a result, we can develop a pattern of emotional eating or self-soothing through food. This can even happen without us being conscious and prevents us from achieving weight loss or having a healthy relationship with food.
The anxiety-eating vicious cycle
Long-term emotional eating can lead to gain weight and become a vicious cycle i.e. the more weight we gain, the more anxiety we have, and therefore the more we need to eat in order to cope with it. Anxiety can also lead to other eating disorders, such as anorexia, binge eating and bulimia; these disorders are complex and involve a combination of psychological, emotional and social factors. Seeking professional help will assist in developing coping strategies for managing anxiety without resorting to unhealthy eating habits.
Causes and triggers
Factors like underlying beliefs, core fears, genetic or environmental reasons, and trauma can play a role in your anxiety. However, it is key to identify what triggers it, particular situations, events, or emotions can be boosting the symptoms of your anxiety.
3 steps to overcome anxiety and emotional eating
Firstly, remember anxiety is uncomfortable but it isn’t dangerous. Don’t be scared; instead, try to be curious and take it as an opportunity to know yourself better.
1. Identify the anxiety feelings/emotions
Anxiety is unique in each individual; it’s crucial that you learn from your own experience. If you can recognise your physical sensations and mental process, you can overcome them. Be aware of what is happening in your body and mind, and it will assist you in making better choices instead of engaging in destructive behaviours.
These are the most common symptoms and remember to pay attention to the body's feelings - they are key to processing emotions.
- Feeling stressed about work, finances, and family.
- Being restless or unable to sit still.
- Feeling sad, low, or depressed.
- Having negative thoughts or fear about the future.
- Feeling anger or in a bad mood.
- Overthinking or regret about the past.
- Feeling lonely, down, or bored.
- Being upset about an event that didn’t go how you expected.
- Thinking that you’re worthless or validated.
- Bodily sensations like despair in the chest, headache, tension in muscles, knots in your stomach, etc.
2. Make the connection between emotions and eating patterns
Ask yourself: What is this food doing for me, am I eating to feel better, and is this food filling my emotions or my stomach? Here are some general connections between emotions and eating patterns.
- Food can be numbing painful emotions like loneliness or boredom.
- Eating a big amount of sugar can be a way to punish yourself for something you’ve said or done, and you feel guilty about.
- Having ice cream can be just a way to escape from overwhelming or stressful situations (work, finances, health) that is causing fear.
3. Address the emotion
Be curious about your emotions: is the fear trying to protect you? Or the loneliness telling you a need to connect with people? Once you identified why are you having those emotions, it is time to develop new positive ways to cope with them. There is a big toolbox of techniques and strategies available, so try and pick the ones that work for you.
In this way, you will master skills and build resilience that will accompany you and will be useful for future challenging moments in life. You can repeat these steps as many times as it is necessary, and expect to make progress; over time it will become easier.
Techniques to overcome the anxiety-eating cycle
Here are some techniques to address emotional eating:
Stress reduction and self-regulation techniques like journaling, meditation, self-parenting, mindfulness, HeartMath, relaxation, and breathing techniques will help you to calm and relax your body and mind.
Hypnotherapy is a safe way to expose yourself to anxiety, build neural pathways to change behaviour and develop self-confidence. If you would like to know more about hypnotherapy and its benefits, please feel free to contact me.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you recognise, challenge, and restructure negative thoughts. Also, it can help identify negative core beliefs that unconsciously are triggering self-destructive behaviour.
Remember this - you’re not your emotions. They are temporary. Look at the big picture and keep in mind the positive aspects of your life. Be kind to yourself and celebrate the little victories. Managing your own emotions can be challenging, so consider seeking out professional help; a therapist should be a partner that accompanies you in the process.
If you are ready to make a change, I’d love to hear from you. I’m here to help!