Mindset and body coaching to overcome emotional eating

Lesson 4

Hi super mums. Lucia Veracruz here, and welcome to week 2 and our fourth training lesson where we cover Separating emotions from food, Regulating emotions, Mindfulness and Mindful eating.

Last week, we talked about some fundamentals, getting your life in order, taking responsibility for all your actions, commitment, the power of compound interest and we also talked about The key components of change and The recipe for success and balance which you can start putting into practice by shifting your old way of thinking.

Today we will be learning some new strategies so we can recognize, accept and manage emotions and be more mindful in order to reduce the urges to eat and reconnect with our body and mind.

What we cover today summary:

  1. Separating emotions from food
  2. Regulating emotions
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Mindful eating

Separating emotions from food

Research shows that the problem dealing with strong emotions is one of the main causes of emotional eating.

We use food to disconnect from our emotions thinking that we can temporarily escape from feelings of sadness, boredom, stress, etc yet as soon as we stop eating, we experience more intense feelings of guilt and shame.

We think that we are not able to handle our emotions however consistently avoiding feelings will limit our ability to make decisions appropriately by not listening to the message that the feeling is trying to deliver.

Practice being curious about your current feelings, instead of moving from one negative emotion to a more intense one that follows if you suppress it.

The more you practice being present and curious and become aware of your emotions, the easier it will be to work out how to handle them.

Why do we have emotions?

Emotion (from Latin “to move”) is a brief signal that delivers a valuable message to guide us to take appropriate action in certain situations by creating changes in the brain that initiate a change of behavior.

Our actions are often closely tied to emotions.

If we suppress our emotions with food, then we can’t respond to them in an appropriate way.

With being mindful we can observe our feelings in a non-judgmental and compassionate way and start dealing with them.

Our feelings are not good or bad and they don’t define us, they are just meaningful messages to help us take the right actions.

So we have to ask ourselves, what actions does this emotion motivate me to do and are these actions helpful?

By understanding our emotions, we can observe them without judgment, accept them and then we are more likely to take different actions.

For example:

Replace the judgemental thoughts:

“I am such a loser, I am so hopeless, weak, unworthy for not being able to manage my emotions and control myself.”

With non-judgemental facts:

“It makes sense that I am not able to manage my emotions since I have never learned how to do it properly. All I know right now is to be disconnected from my feelings because this is what I practiced doing so when a feeling comes, instead of accepting it, I ignore it or suppress it with food.”

The response to our emotions will also be affected by what we believe about our emotions.

Unfortunately, our predictions are often inaccurate, especially when we get overwhelmed because we assume that our emotions will last forever or when we believe that we cannot cope with them.

Once we learn to differentiate between our emotions, we can manage them with ease.

So instead of eating every time we are emotional, we will learn to take different action as a response to different emotions.

Once we are able to manage our emotions, we will not respond the same to loneliness compared to feelings of anger or stress.

If you find it challenging recognizing your emotions because you have been disconnected from your mind and body for a long time, here are the most common ones with their functions:

Fear

Message- to protect us from immediate danger.

Prompted action- running, freezing up, screaming, crying, seeking safety.

Anxiety

Message- to protect us from future danger.

Prompted action- avoiding people of places that cause fear, seeking reassurance from others.

Anger

Message- to allow us to respond to a violation.

Prompted action- defending, threatening, yelling, withdrawing.

Sadness

Message- to slow us down allowing us to cope with a loss of a person or a desired goal.

Prompted action- lying in bed, self-isolating, losing motivation or interest.

Joy

Message- To prompt us to celebrate something we value.

Prompted action- continuing activities causing joy like celebrating and acting silly.

Guilt

Message- to prompt us to correct a behavior that violates social norms.

Prompted action- hiding, attempting to repair damage.

Shame

Message- To commit us to act according to our personal values.

Prompted action- apologizing, reflecting, changing behavior.

Disgust

Message- to move away from something or someone unpleasant.

Prompted action- pushing away, avoiding, expressing concern.

Learning to recognize and appreciate the purpose of emotions are the first steps to breaking the link of emotions with food.

Separating emotions from food

In order to separate your emotions from food, you will need to get curious and start looking at yourself objectively.

So what you need to do is step outside yourself as another person and observe yourself without judgment and with compassion.

For example:

When you feel out of control, look at yourself as an observer and give yourself a kind of advice that you would give to someone in that situation without being emotionally involved.

This is often easier said than done and it takes a lot of practice.

This is how I do it:

First, when the urge to eat comes, I recognize what emotion I am feeling, then I deal with it by separating it from my actions (binge eating).

So rather than suppressing or numbing my emotion with food, I acknowledge it.

I might be feeling stressed, tired, bored, sad, angry, disappointed, hurt or other…

Then I respond to my emotions with appropriate actions that will help me “process” them:

  • I respond to anger by yelling (when I am by myself), going for a walk or deep breathing.
  • I respond to sadness by crying, going for a walk or calling a friend.
  • I respond to boredom by doing something I enjoy.
  • I respond to tiredness by laying down, resting or having a bath.
  • I respond to hurt by communicating my feeling.
  • I respond to stress by looking at the facts rather than my predictions of what might happen and by looking for solutions to the problems that cause stress.

And then once I am calm, I can regain control and make reasonable decisions.

Regulating emotions

When we suppress our feelings by acting dishonestly (telling people we are fine when we are not) or reacting angrily (when we can’t control certain situations), emotions can feel quite intense increasing the urges to eat or respond impulsively.

Here are the strategies that have helped me regulate my emotions:

  • Validation
  • Reducing vulnerabilities

Validation

We can regulate our emotions by validating and acknowledging them because doing otherwise creates judgment and unacceptance.

Example of validation:

“It makes sense that I feel stressed and tired, given the day I had, it is normal to feel that way.”

“It makes sense that I turn to food when I am feeling emotional, given that is what I was taught during my childhood.”

Example of Invalidation:

“I am too sensitive and pathetic; I can’t even get through a day without feeling stressed.”

Validation doesn’t mean that we feel sorry for ourselves, it just means that we look at the facts and accept our emotions as they are based on the events that happened that day which in turn regulates the emotions.

Reducing vulnerabilities

Being emotionally vulnerable affects how we react in certain situations based on our experiences and that is why some of us may feel more powerless to change our emotional state than others.

Our experiences, habits (lack of or too much sleep, not enough or too much food) and some recent stressful events can increase our emotional vulnerabilities.

Ways to reduce emotional vulnerabilities:

  1. Avoid dieting and hunger
  2. Add positive activities
  3. Plan and rehearse ahead
  4. Act opposite

Avoid dieting and hunger

We all know those people who say they can’t eat when they are emotional wishing it was us who felt the same…

In some situations, being emotional can lead to not eating or binging but the opposite is true as well when emotions intensify as a result of restriction, hunger or overeating.

When we are restricting our food intake or feel hungry, we are more likely to increase the urges to binge and less likely to make healthier choices which make us more emotionally vulnerable.

Add positive activities

Increasing activities that are joyful like spending quality time with the kids, going for a walk, dancing or listening to nice music reduces our emotional vulnerabilities.

Often when we feel down, we might find it is difficult to think of activities that would be fun because our head if full of judgments which can lead to our experience being unpleasant.

So let go of expectations and just see if you can add some positive activities to your daily tasks to reduce your emotional vulnerabilities.

Plan and rehearse ahead

Often our negative thinking and predictions make our experiences worse which increases our emotional vulnerability.

Research shows that we can learn new skills and improve our performance by planning ahead and rehearsing.

So instead of expecting the worse to happen, we need to look at the facts and potential obstacles and think of ways to deal with them by planning and rehearsing different scenarios.

Act opposite

If our emotions are so intense that we are not able to respond to them in an appropriate way, then we can try acting opposite to what the emotions are prompting us to do in order to change the way we fell.

Same as when we feel unmotivated and we feel like doing nothing, by purposefully and mindfully (with a positive attitude without judgment) doing the opposite- exercising, we get more motivated.

Or when we feel unaccepting, by purposefully and mindfully doing the opposite to what we feel, accepting and letting go, we will feel more accepting, validated and compassionate.

We can also try to acknowledge and accept our emotions for a bit when the urges to eat arise instead of just eating right away in order to change how we feel.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness means to be fully aware of the present moment and paying attention to our emotions, thoughts and experiences instead of being a slave to our impulses and bad habits.

When we are disconnected from our mind and body, we have a hard time recognising our feelings (including the feeling of being full and satisfied after a meal) because we function in an automated mindless manner which seems out of our control.

We often think about the past or the future instead of being in the present moment, which then means that we are less likely to enjoy the moment (which requires being present), experience pleasure or satisfaction and more likely to be unhappy.

Happiness is more related to thinking rather than to doing, which means that thinking comes at an emotional cost.

E.g. Like thinking about being on holidays instead of being at work will give us less satisfaction while working same as thinking about work while we are on holidays will cause us to enjoy our holidays less…

Mindfulness is an effective way of dealing with emotional eating not only because it will increase satisfaction while eating but also because it thickens the middle prefrontal cortex of the brain, facilitating more control.

You can practice mindfulness by doing regular meditation or by being present during any routine activities throughout the day by switching of the tv, phone, radio or any other distractions.

If you are committed to exercising your body because you know it will make you feel better, you will also need to commit to exercising your mind= doing mediation in order to increase your mindfulness.

If you have a hard time meditating, because your thoughts wonder away after a few seconds of concentrating on your breathing, then when you notice, just practice bringing your thoughts back every time.

When I started meditating, it felt like I couldn’t concentrate on my breathing for longer than a half a minute at a time and the rest of the time my mind was wondering.

But the more I practiced, the better I got at spending less time wondering and more time being mindful.

It might take 4-12 weeks of practicing before being mindful becomes a habit.

When you decide to practice mindfulness, you might notice thoughts like:

“That’s not my personality, I can’t sit still and be quite…”

“This is easy for those who are spiritual, but I am not like that…”

“I lose motivation easily…”

“I get distracted, I have too much on my mind…”

“I am too tired…”

“I don’t have time for that because I am a mum and I am too busy with the children…”

What is important to consider is, are those thoughts helpful?

If they are not, you must discard them and ask yourself:

“How can I get better at being more mindful and connected with my mind and body? How can I bring my thoughts back to the present moment faster when they distract me from being mindful?”

Mindful eating

As emotional eaters we often multitask while eating (watch tv, look at social media, talk), we eat quickly, and we eat on the run (not sitting down mostly at the fridge or in the car).

We also have a lack of awareness of being full while we are disconnected and distracted and often a lack of knowledge of what we are eating.

All of these factors cause an increased amount of food during and after the meals because our brain simply can’t remember what we ate and how much we ate.

It is important to try and work on all the aspects affecting our emotional eating by accepting ourselves, by being mindful and by practicing mindful eating.

We can start by being grateful for the food we have to eat (not taking food for granted), slowing down when eating (it takes 20 minutes for the brain to send the signal that we are full) and being aware of each bite by looking at the food, touching it, smelling it, tasting it and then paying attention to chewing it.

We can also be mindful and pay attention to eating more nutritious food and plan our meals when we won’t have easy access to healthy food instead of waiting until we are starving.

When we plan our meals, we are less likely to eat as a response to our feelings of tiredness, boredom, stress or anger.

Breaking the vicious cycle

When I was searching for answers to help me with my food obsession, I tried counseling, Overeaters anonymous meetings, Thai Chi, loving myself, praying, using affirmations, kinesiology, energy healing and I studied nutrition and exercise.

And even though doing all those things has helped me improve but they never gave me a certainty that I am healed for good and that I will never lose control again until I changed my mindset and habits.

It made me realize that in order for me to overcome something so powerful that had a hold of my life for so long and be certain about it, I needed to let go of my “old self” and release myself from the vicious cycle of dieting, losing and gaining weight which didn’t get me anywhere.

I heard the famous definition of insanity many times: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, I knew something had to change…

Changing my old automated eating patterns that I couldn’t control, took a lot of practice and repetition.

When I first started implementing mindful eating, I had a really hard time doing it during eating, but I found it a lot easier to be present and accepting after.

By being mindful and accepting myself without judgment, I broke the vicious cycle of what would normally follow a binge (extreme exercising and food restriction) and I did less exercise with no food restriction.

And rather than thinking that I will gain a huge amount of weight, I focused on breaking this pattern regardless of what happened with my weight.

So, my focus has shifted from weight loss to being accepting, mindful and Binge-free!

And when I was exercising and eating, I stopped focusing on rules and restrictions, on what happened yesterday or what is going to happen tomorrow (even if I had a party to go to) and I stayed mindful in the PRESENT!

And the more I practiced this, the better I could hear my body telling me what it needed at that moment.

And more often than not, I was happy (satisfied) with a light meal (to my surprise) knowing that if I felt like eating more, I could…

And the urges to overeat slowly disappeared and with that my weight started to drop too.

In our next lesson, we will talk about How to accept the part of you that you want to change and Judgment of self.

Thank you for completing this lesson, here is today’s homework and check out the implementation tips tomorrow that you can start putting into practice.

Today’s homework:

Welcome to your Mindset & Body Coaching Lesson 4

1. Your full name

2. Did you complete today's coaching lesson? If not, why not?

3. Did you exercise today? If not, why not?

4. Did all of your food choices make you feel satisfied today? If they didn't, how can you do better next time?

5. Did you binge today (eat an insane amount of food in one sitting)? If you did, what did you binge on and how much did you eat? If you didn't, go to question 10. 

6. If you binged, do you know why? What foods are you trying to restrict or control? What was the conversation in your head? What emotions did you feel before the binge? And how did they affect your binge?
7. How can you change that conversation in your head next time? What habits can you change to help you move forward? And how can you manage your emotions better next time instead of eating?
8. How did you feel after the binge?
9. What strategies did you use to help you move on? And how long did it take you to move on?
10. What improvements can you celebrate today?

11. Do you have any questions regarding today’s lesson?

12. How do you feel after completing it?