Have you ever noticed you simply can’t stop eating? If so, there are at least 8 food mindsets that keep you stuck in an emotional eating cycle. If you’re at the point where you’re ready to shift your mindset around food, this article will help you do so.
First, let’s understand what emotional eating really is in order to help you determine if this is a cycle in your life contributing to feeling like you can’t stop eating.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is when you use food as a way to deal with feelings. It occurs when you’re not hungry and usually involves larger amounts of food that are considered “comfort” foods or junk foods. Experts say that 40% of overeating is caused by emotions.
If this definition resonates with you, then let’s see which of the following food mindsets could potentially be causing you to feel like you can’t stop eating.
1. Food is main source of comfort, therefore leaving you stuck in the cycle.
When you define food this way, then any time you seek comfort, your tendency will be to turn to food. Food can be comfort, however, there are many ways to comfort yourself or self-soothe when needed. It may not be as quick and easy as grabbing something out of your cupboard but finding comfort in more productive ways could lead to much better consequences.
2. I “need” food.
Unless your physically hungry, you actually do not need food. The “need” is a false belief unless you are truly hungry. In fact, you can go 3-4 hours without food and be fine. The goal will be to ask yourself, what do you need? If you’re not physically hungry, then your emotions need something. The goal will be to figure out how to meet that need without sabotaging yourself with food.
3. Only food makes me happy.
If this is your mindset, then it is time to figure out what is missing. Are you missing healthy and fulfilling relationships, a better or different job, or something else? You are in charge of your happiness so if food is the only thing in your life that makes you happy, it is high time to reevaluate and be proactive about creating more areas of happiness.
4. Food is my friend therefore emotional eating persists.
I’m here to tell you that is not true. Food is not a person. It is simply energy that supplies the body with fuel. Food is a means to an end, not a relationship that you have intimacy and connection with. Yes, you are absolutely allowed to enjoy your food. But food is not a mutual relationship where there is give and take.
5. I don’t matter, so what is the point if I overeat?
This mindset indicates there could be some depression and/or very low self-esteem causing the emotional eating cycle to continue. I recommend talking to a professional or trusted clergy in order to work through this mindset and realize that until you believe you matter; food will be your go to and end up hurting you in the long run.
6. I don’t have time to take care of myself, so I have to grab what I can.
This mindset hurts my heart. Similar to the previous mindset that you don’t matter, if you cannot find the time to feed yourself what is good and life giving, then honestly, you simply do not care about yourself and your own needs. This is keeping you stuck in the cycle.
Your relationship with food is a reflection of your relationship with yourself.
If everyone else comes before you, then the emotional eating cycle will never end. The moment you put yourself first, emotional eating starts to take a back seat to what is truly important.
7. I’m addicted and cannot stop turning to food.
This victim mindset is a huge contributor to feeling stuck in the cycle and that you can’t stop eating. I’m not saying addiction to food, in particular sugar is not a real thing. But to think you have no power or control over what you put in your mouth is simply not true. If you start to understand your desire for sugar and realize you are not powerless, you can start to shift your behavior and realize that you have choices when turning to food or sugar.
8. Food tastes so good and I cannot stop eating.
This is the truth. Food does taste good. If you’re hungry, enjoy every bite! However, if you’re eating when you’re not hungry, then continuing to eat just because it tastes good is hurting yourself as well as sabotaging your goals. Eat and enjoy your food. Stop when content. If there is still tasty food to be eaten, save it for when you’re hungry again.
There are more than 8 food mindsets that could be keeping you stuck in the emotional eating cycle. But let’s start to understand what issues typically create the sense that you can’t stop eating.
In other words, it’s time to get honest and know what is going on under the hood?
Typically, there is a lack of self-care, insufficient stress management, a higher tendency toward feelings of shame, and an absence of meaning or purpose in life.
Do you notice a lack of self-care?
This can include poor sleep habits, poor eating habits, i.e., not eating regularly throughout the day, inconsistent exercise, putting yourself last as well as poor boundaries that lead to feeling bitter or resentful.
What resources do you have to manage your stress?
Insufficient stress management includes but is not limited to, outlets for your stress such as exercise, meditation, time with friends, getting out into nature, or simply time to yourself. It’s not a secret that the more stress you feel, the more you may turn to food for comfort, distraction or numbing.
Are you aware of feeling a lot of shame?
You’re not alone if you’ve internalized messages from your childhood or past traumas that have left you believing you’re not good enough or not (fill in the blank) enough. Some people are very aware of this belief, yet most people are not.
These shameful belief systems can be infiltrating your days so that when something goes wrong or you are feeling badly about something, the shame comes up and food tends to be a quick band-aid to slap on top.
Are you someone who has purpose and meaning in your life?
If not, you may struggle with depression. Everyone needs to feel like they are here for a reason and a purpose. Even if that purpose is not necessarily to save the world, there is value in feeling like you matter. Without this sense of meaning, it’s easy to get depressed. Or you may notice boredom from lack of purpose being a large contributor to feeling like you can’t stop eating.
It’s important to be honest with yourself and see if you are taking good care of yourself, managing your stress and finding meaning in your life. If not, then there are people, tools and resources out there to help.
Even with help, however, it is important to understand the purpose of your emotional eating cycle. The more you understand, the more empowered you are to start to shift your mindsets and behaviors.
The purpose of emotional eating and how it keeps you stuck in this cycle.
Emotional eating functions as a numbing, distracting, or avoiding agent. Food covers up the undesired and/or intolerable feelings. Just like any addiction, whether that is alcohol, drugs, porn, shopping, etc., there is an outside force being used to NOT feel any feelings.
The problem with this cycle is that it creates shame. Then, in order to avoid more feelings of shame, you turn to food again. Thus, the cycle of emotional eating persists.
So, you now have a better idea as to why you can’t stop eating, the 8 food mindsets that lead to emotional eating and the purpose it serves. You’re hopefully wondering what you can do about it.
Steps to stop the emotional eating cycle.
First, it’s time to up your self-care. This begins with the reality that you matter just as much as anyone else. I know there are beliefs or myths about self-care that could be getting in the way. You can challenge those beliefs, start to do small things for yourself on a daily or weekly basis and start to see how you feel. This alone could cure you from feeling stuck in the emotional eating cycle.
Second, gather tools, resources, and people to help you manage your stress. This could be anything from working out at home, downloading a meditation app, seeking professional help, having a list of people to call when you’re stressed, or deciding that a daily walk will do the trick.
Third, root out your shame. Do some writing or journaling about the messages you received as a kid or from past trauma that leave you feeling not good enough. Seek professional help if needed and decide shame doesn’t get to rule your world anymore. Replace it with self-compassion which begins with talking to yourself like you would your best friend.
Fourth, if you currently do not feel like there is meaning or purpose in your life, you can start to explore your passions. Start by thinking about what bring you a sense of energy and excitement? It may not be something you get paid for but engaging in any activity that gives you energy and spark is a great place to begin.
Knowledge is power. Take the knowledge you now have and realize that you can stop eating (when not hungry). Your mindset around food and how it contributes to your emotional eating cycle can start to shift today. You do not have to be stuck in an emotional eating cycle anymore. You can find a healthy relationship with both food and your body. Yes, it will take time. But when you know you matter; the time will be worth it!
Lesley Goth, PsyD is a psychologist and sustainable weight loss coach. She has created an online program that helps women get out of the emotional eating cycle, develop a healthy relationship with food, and experience sustainable weight loss. For more information, you can contact Lesley here.