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5 Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating

Change occurs over time, but small change leads to big change. So do not be afraid to jump in and start challenging your mindset (and negative self-talk) so you can start living the life you crave.
07/30/2015 04:55pm ET | Updated July 30, 2016
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We were so excited for summer! Time with friends, the themed picnics, fun in the sun, pool time, and a little time away from work with some extra R&R! What is there not to enjoy? Well, for some of us, as we have attended events, festive picnics, holiday gatherings, and extra long vacations, we began to have negative thoughts about our body size and shape and food choices. Instead of feeling joy and elation from the freedom of summer, we are experiencing guilt and shame at our 'less than beach-perfect' bodies, angry about our perceived lack of willpower, and just feeling down since we are not like the rest of our Facebook feed doing those Mud Runs or half-marathons! Where do they get all that energy? And why do they think it is fun, anyways?!

If you can relate to any of these scenarios, you are not alone! And, here are five simple shifts that you can do to stop emotional eating, reduce self-sabotage, and gain confidence in food, mood, fitness, and body! There is always hope, friends, and you need to know you are never alone in these struggles! Change occurs over time, but small change leads to big change. So do not be afraid to jump in and start challenging your mindset (and negative self-talk) so you can start living the life you crave.

1. Just Say No! That is, to the all-or-nothing thinking that often precipitates this 'I am making so much progress' to 'I am a failure' mentality that cycles with dieting and exercise. Though it is sometimes good to have high expectations, when we have a hard time being flexible with ourselves we only evaluate our progress in terms of success or non-success. Thus, I challenge you to think about where you can invite a little less all-or-nothing thinking into your day and embrace a more open-minded perspective about what you can realistically achieve. And, be grateful for this success.

2. Get Back Up! You may have heard that our struggles are part of our story, and that we gain strength from these struggles. There is so much truth to this statement (as hard as this feels sometimes). We will always face setbacks, but how we respond to them is going to determine if we are going to move in a forward direction! When you feel like you have 'ruined' your day by eating something that was on your eating 'no-no' list or did not put as much effort into your exercise, remind yourself that you have the entire day ahead of you and there is still time for positivity and change. In other words, get right back up and see how you can still make it the best day you can!

3. Identify Hunger Cues! Many of us are so busy that we often do not even think about what we are eating or we are eating so fast we do not even taste or enjoy the texture of our food. How many of us have eaten our kids leftovers only to feel unsatisfied, which then leads to more eating and then feeling annoyance and frustration with our behaviors? Eating without actual belly hunger is something I refer to as mouth hunger. That is, we participate in the action of eating because we want to be chewing something even though we may not be experiencing the true sensation of hunger. When we do this, we are not using our internal hunger signals to guide us, which is so important for being more aware with what our body truly needs. I want you to be aware of your hunger cues. Are you truly experiencing hunger (stomach hunger) or are you eating just because you feel like munching on something (mouth hunger)?

4. Buffer Against Beauty Ideals! In our culture, we are overwhelmed with images and messages about 'the perfect body' and diet products that can help us achieve these (often unrealistic and photoshopped) goals. We are also taught that as females, our body size and shape is extremely important and there seems to be an emphasis on how it looks versus what it can do for us. This process is referred to as thin-ideal internalization. However, when we can shift our perspective and begin to resist some of these body ideals and focus on consistent, positive behaviors (e.g., daily exercise, mindful of what/how we are eating, etc.), our bodies and minds will feel strong and we will start to gain greater body esteem and life momentum.

5. Focus on Emotions! As the term emotional eating would suggest, we sometimes use food as a coping strategy for when we are experiencing some other emotion, such as anger, overwhelm, sadness, or frustration. Our eating behavior serves as of whatever we are trying to escape from, but the reality is that this feeling will return. Thus, we need to first identify what emotions we are noticing and strategize about another way to cope with these feelings. This is not always easy and it does take time and work because over time as we have likely developed habits and typical ways of responding to various stimuli in our environment, including our negative emotions. Thus, we need to re-train our mind to develop a different habit to replace our old way of coping. I challenge you to think of alternative coping responses when you are in situations that trigger this type of behavior.

Now that you have learned about five simple shifts, what do you think would be most important to implement? And if you need additional support, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional, coach, family member, or friend! You can do this!

Dr. Machin is a Licensed Clinical and Sport Psychologist and Wellness Coach, and offers group coaching sessions and e-courses for emotional eating, fitness motivation, fat loss mindset, and body esteem. She also has a 30-day virtual program for busy women called The Encouragement Café starting August 2015.

If you want to see more of articles, inspiration, tools, and positive messages related to emotional eating, body image, fitness motivation, and empowerment, keep in touch via her Facebook page.