In this article I’m going to cover 4 common traps that tend to lead to emotional overeating.
The 4 Common Emotional Eating Traps
1) The first one is trying to suppress painful thoughts or emotions. The act of fighting against and trying to control your emotions is draining, and when you do this, you end up using all your energy and willpower fighting your emotions. This means that when you’re presented with temptation, like a box of donuts, you don’t have any willpower left to resist it.
2) The second one is ruminating over negative events. In a way, this is sort of the opposite of suppression. In rumination, you actually brood over negative things. You think abuot them over and over. You create a story in your head, and you get caught up in it so much that you just relive it over and over.
It’s probaly pretty obvious that ruminating over negative events can lead to depression. But what you may not know is that it also messes with your eating. In fact, this behavior has been shown to lead to binge eating, and even bulimia.
3) Third is comparing yourself to others. I talked about this idea in another module, but I wanted to mention it again because it applies here too. Remember, when you compare ourselves to others, you don’t usually compare ourselves to the average person. Instead, you pick one person who’s better than you in some way and compare yourself to them. Comparing yourself in this way skews your self-image in a way that makes it so that you’re never actually “good enough.”
4) Finally, and this is an important one, perfectionism.
I’m going to talk about this idea a lot more in the module on setbacks, but for now, just know that you should not expect to be perfect. The problem with perfectionism is that it fosters all-or-nothing thinking. A perfectionist will be following a diet and doing great, and then they have one little brownie, and they see it as a catastrophe. They think their diet is ruined, so why even bother?
The Two Types of Emotional Eating Traps
We can put these 4 emotional eating traps into 2 main categories.
First there’s “not accepting your emotions.” In #1 (above), suppressing, you fight against your emotions, and in #2, you obsess over them.
Second, there’s “not accepting yourself as you are.” In #3, comparing, you compare yourself to others as a way of deciding that you’re not good enough. And in #4, perfectionism, you compare yourself to perfection and decide that you’re not good enough.
So as you can see, the root cause of emotional eating boils back down to this idea of acceptance. Whatever you are, and however you feel, that’s who you are and how you feel right now. It doesn’t mean those things can’t change. It just means that they WON’T change until you accept them.
How To Stop A Negative Mood
Finally, I’ve got one little quick trick or technique that you can use when you notice that you’re starting to fall into one of these emotional eating traps.
It’s called a state break.
Now when I talk about your “state,” I’m referring to your mental or emotional state. Basically this is just how you’re feeling now.
The way a state break works is: it interrupts a negative state and gives you a chance to replace it with something more positive.
Here’s how it might work in practice:
Let’s say that you catch yourself ruminating over negative thoughts. You’re sort of stuck in your head thinking about something negative… Maybe you’re replaying an unpleasant event that happened recently.
So step one, of course, is awareness: recognizing that you’re in a negative state.
This is a great time to use a state break.
Step 1: Interrupt The Negative State
So the first thing you need to do is create some sort of dramatic interruption. For example, yell the word “STOP” at the top of your lungs.
(Or if you don’t want to yell out loud, if you’re at work for example, just imagine yelling at the top of your lungs maybe even imagine you doing it with a megaphone in your head.)
The point is to overwhelm your mind with something loud and dramatic.
You can also pair the yelling with some sort of physical motion, like slapping your forehead (not too hard though), slapping the wall, jumping up and down, or something like that.
The point of this loud yelling with the sudden movement is to jerk your brain out of that negative state.
The thing is—and this is important— this will only work for a second.
If you don’t immediately replace that negative state with a different state, you’ll probably slip back into that same negative state within a few moments.
Step 2: Replace It With A Positive State
So immediately after the state break, you want to force yourself to be as happy and positive as possible. Think about something cheerful. I don’t care if it’s babies or puppies or sunshine or whatever.
Also make sure to reflect cheerfulness in your body: stand up or sit up tall and make a big smile. Throw your hands in the air triumphantly.
Do this even if it feels fake.
This is important because your body’s position (as I mentioned in the last blog post on emotional eating) has a strong effect on your body and your mood. Forcing yourself to sit up tall and smile will impact your mood for the better.
So to recap, a state break has two simple steps:
- First you interrupt the negative state with a loud noise and movement,
- Then you replace the negative statement with a more positive one by forcing yourself into a more positive mood.
Give this a try the next time you catch yourself in a negative mood and see if it doesn’t help dig you out of that bad mood so you start to feel better right away.
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