Finding the Key to Emotional Eating

Eureka! By George, I think we’ve got it. The key to emotional eating, that is.

You see, I have two friends with whom I have been going to regular spin classes a few times each week. Overall we all eat healthy too. Yet one of us is losing weight and keeping it off. She looks fantastic.

The other two of us, well, not as much. Sure, going to the classes is helping (particularly through this dreary winter), but I haven’t lost a thing. Because I have worked out, I become less hesitant to give up on the junk food. “Sure, I can have a few fries. I worked out today.”

Haven’t you ever said that? Typically with me, it is not until I start to feel better or see results on the scale that I start to become more motivated to make better decisions.

Well, apparently that is the wrong approach. We are supposed to work out and refrain from eating junk in order to take off the pounds. Who knew???

Okay, so I am making light of it just a bit, and I am well aware that this is all nothing more than a math equation. What goes out must be greater than what goes in. I get it. Yet I definitely have not been eating as well as I should, and I know exactly why.

The answer is twofold; stress and exhaustion. Lately, particularly with an extra 10 snow days so far this year, both are going hand-in-hand. Life has been stressful and I have been waking up regularly several hours before the sun.

Now, there is something you have to know about my two friends. One of them is planning a huge party for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah soon so she has a different incentive to laying off the post-workout fries. And according to a study out today, that is making all the difference between the three of us.

It’s not really about the workout, the food, the stress, or the exhaustion. Sure, that plays into it all, but that is not the driving force. The driving force is the incentive, the future.

When people are in a good mood, they are more likely to choose healthier alternatives. And the underlying reason is that they considered the future and the long-term effect of their immediate choice. On the other hand, people in a negative mood have more of a tendency to choose the food that will satisfy them in the short term, which tends to be the less healthy option.

This also explains why my friend Carla always makes the right choice. That lady is always in a good mood. It also explains why people who practice mindfulness tend to have success on the scale. They are consciously putting attention towards the emotions before making the decisions.

Fascinating stuff, and it makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

So my friend who has that added incentive, who was thinking of that party and how she wants to feel that evening and in the future, that became the determining factor in her success. Sure, she has stressors too, but she is choosing (whether subconsciously or knowingly) how she will feel on that evening and in the long-term over immediate satisfaction.

These findings also confirm how living a healthy lifestyle is a cyclical pattern. While those who succeed are the ones who have their eyes firmly focused on the future, once the ball starts rolling and there are some small successes it helps to keep our eyes on the prize. Those of us who yo-yo lose focus on the long-term and divert back to the here-and-now.

The good news is that the research found that those who make a conscious effort to start thinking about the future when it is time to make a food choice can train themselves to make better choices. We can talk about foods that will lift our moods, but it makes much more sense to lift our moods first and let our choices do the rest. So the next time you are choosing between salad and fries, think about whether your future self, and which choice she would prefer that you make.

What do you think?

Emotional eating: The key to losing weight away from the gym.

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  1. 100 Days until Memorial Day Weekend when we’ll all be back in bathing suits…there’s our motivation! 😀

  2. I think you are awesome for participating in a spin class : )!
    I also think that emotional eating is the worst. I did it last night. It was late. I wasn’t even hungry. I was so worried about my father in law who is in a nursing home right now. Before I even know it, I had consumed a plate of food I wasn’t even hungry for. Darn it.

  3. “it is not until I start to feel better or see results on the scale that I start to become more motivated to make better decisions.” — YES! it is a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

  4. I agree – I do think I make better food choices when I am in a good mood, and when I take time to cook dinner and enjoy the meal, and not just fill myself because I need food.

  5. This could not come at a better time for me. I literally ate non-stop during the storm yesterday. I knew I was doing it because I was stressed, and I was seeking comfort by stuffing my face. Having a goal is huge. Looks like I need to sit down and set a goal for myself, which helps restrain my emotional eating impulses!

  6. This is so true! I found that when I was going to the gym often, and getting enough sleep that I’d make better choices. Not so much with the lack of either or both.

  7. I always stuff my face when I get home from the gym :( I gotta kick that!

  8. I totally agree. That is my sole motivation for exercise. LOL. Okay, not my sole motivation. I’m not an emotional eater though…the opposite actually, which isn’t great either.

  9. Why is it so hard to find balance with eating exercise? Great points here…. everything in moderation seems to work for me… and chasing my kids totally counts as exercise, right?

  10. Great post. I get stressed and forget to eat and then when I get to eating my body refuses to shed those pounds. I need to destress & plan ahead.

  11. This really rings true. For me, emotional eating is the symptom of poor overall health – not just feeling depressed or negative, but also during sickness, when I’m overworked, lacking sleep, and so on. So yeah, I definitely agree that when you feel good physically and mentally, it’s much easier to make better choices! (Not to mention the studies they’ve done on sleeplessness making us crave fatty foods as our bodies’ desperate way to replenish energy, etc)

  12. It’s a cycle for me. When I eat great I feel great and then I will continue to eat great. One misstep and I will seek comfort in food and it takes a LOT for me to get back to a routine of healthy routine.

  13. Nodding– as I have lacked mindfulness in the last several days- on top of everything else, it becomes like a snowball effect. A great reminder to start the new week!

  14. I’m a guilty emotional eater….this is something I’m trying to catch myself before I do it.

  15. I’m a stress eater. If I’m anxious or upset about something I reach for the chocolate bar … and not just one. If I’m happy I’m more inclined to cook a healthy meal from scratch, sit down and actually enjoy it. Now to actually make it to the gym too and stop just paying them money every month.

  16. Thanks for this! I am definitely in the category of making decisions for the short-term gain (pun intended!!)
    This is food for thought – more puns, *groan*! I need to start thinking about what my future self would do or say.

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