Fight Emotional Eating With This Secret Weapon (& it’s so easy!)

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.”  Proverbs 3:3 (NLT)

Emotional eating doesn’t usually sneak up on us. If we’re honest, we know it’s pre-meditated. Often, we plan for it, although we like to tell ourselves it happens “in the heat moment.” 

How do we plan for it? We buy the food and have it our house. Maybe we tell ourselves it’s for the kids. We plan to eat it while we drive to our favorite binge restaurant. We fantasize about the donuts that will be in the conference room. We plan throughout the day to have our special treat after the kids go to bed. We diet till we reach our goal weight then eat all the things we put off for so long without “thinking” of the consequences. We tell ourselves we deserve it so many times we talk ourselves into it. Emotional eating is more scheduled than we give it credit for. 

What is really going on here?  Bottom line, we think food will make us happy – or at least happier. Maybe it’s because we think we are being kind to ourselves. But does being kind to ourselves by indulging in food really make us happier? 

Let’s look at some science around that. In the book “The Myths of Happiness” Sonja Lyubomirsky studied acts of kindness, and this is what she discovered: “What we found was it was only doing acts of kindness for others or for the world that made people happier. Doing acts of kindness for yourself [getting a massage or your favorite sushi sited as examples] actually did not really work. Maybe it made you feel good for a few moments, but that’s about it.” Other benefits of being kind to others and the world? Lyubomirsky reports that. “In a follow-up study, we actually saw changes in the biology of the participants… the people who did acts of kindness for the world and for others showed indicators of less inflammation and protection against viruses as well as bacteria. That was amazing to us. Doing acts of kindness for others, not only does it make people happier, but it changes your physiology. That does not happen when people did acts of kindness for themselves.” (Taken from the Myths of Happiness-Lyubomirsky Interview Transcript FMCA, emphasis added.)

If we are emotionally eating and using food in an unhealthy way to make us happy, or healthier, we are “digging in the wrong place.” (To quote Raiders of the Lost Ark.) We might get a jolt of temporary happiness, but science shows the happiness won’t last long, and we know the potato chips aren’t making us healthier.  Want to make a big impact on your well being and health when it comes to ending emotional eating? Here’s the trick: Turn your emotional eating response as a form of inward focused self-kindness, into an outward expression of kindness toward someone else. Do this, and you’ve found your secret weapon to long term happiness and health in the fight against emotional eating: Simply do something nice for someone else.

I know it’s difficult to change. I’ve been there, and still struggle with this myself at a times.  In the moment, it can seem impossible to stop the overwhelming desire to eat. Not to worry, here are some steps to start practicing kindness toward others when the desire to emotionally eat creeps in and takes over.

1) Before emotional eating: Set a timer for 15 minutes.  Ask God to help you not eat until the timer goes off.

2) After setting the timer, take 3 minutes to pray. This can be done at any time, in chaos or quiet. If you can find a quiet place go there. (Bathroom, backyard, bedroom… maybe not the pantry.) If you can’t find a quiet place, simply stop where you are and begin.

3) While praying, practice a breathing technique. I often use the 4-7-8 breathing technique because it can be done anywhere, anytime and is discreet and remarkably simple. This is how it works: Exhale through your mouth completely, inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight. This counts as one breath. Repeat a total of 4 times.*

4) While or after breathing ask God who you can be kind to in this moment. Listen for inspiration. What act of kindness can you do right now?  Is it a kind word? An act of service? A text? A phone call? For a friend? A spouse? A child? Listen for God’s leading and follow through with the act of kindness you are feeling lead to do.  (Not sure if it’s from God? Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. If it falls under the umbrella of love, and is in line with scripture then you’re probably in good shape.) 

Sidebar: Don’t expect a response or a return kindness as this may be a trigger to eat if left void. Simply do this kindness for someone else for fun and for free.  

Examine the result. By using kindness toward others, because of your loyalty to God and his leading in your life, you have just brought sweetness you can savor into your life and the life of someone else. You have acted in response to an emotional need in a positive way. 

Has your timer gone off yet? How do you feel? Do you still need the cookie or the chips? Please comment with your experience below.

Questions for reflection during your prayer time with the Lord:

1. Ask the Lord if you are planning for emotional eating. Talk to Him about changes you can make to plan for healing living instead.  Take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 10:13  “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (NLT)  How can God help show you a way out when you are tempted to emotionally eat? How can you accept and follow through on his rescue solution?

2. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength and wisdom to try this new tactic to fight emotional eating. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you where true happiness comes from, long term happiness, in the moment you need its most.  Trust God with the outcome when you change old habits, try something new, and follow him.

This is Day 10 in “Eating Through the Proverbs,” a Bible study about food, by Julia Fikse, Functional Medicine Health Coach ©2019.  

Need more support? Contact me to see if personalized health coaching might be a good fit for you. I am not a therapist or a doctor and this blog cannot and should not in any way replace doctors advice.

*For more information on how the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique can help with anxiety, insomnia, hypertension and more here is one article, although there are many https://resperate.health/sleep/sleeping-easy-4-7-8/

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