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Have you ever been in a situation where you just finished a meal and you knew you weren't hungry, but...
You still had an overwhelming urge to eat something else?
You were full (at least you thought you were), but now you're reaching for ice cream or chocolate or chips. It seems that "the taste of something" will make you feel better, so...
What do you do when you're not hungry, but want to eat?
It's not a matter of willpower; it's a matter of understanding what to do.
So, in this article, I'm going to share everything you need to know and tell you exactly what you need to do. And I'll give you the steps I use with clients in our one-on-one coaching program.
Let's dive right in.
The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of hunger: physical and emotional. And because these two can be easily confused, it's important to understand how they differ. (1)
And the easiest way to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger is by asking questions like these:
Did I become hungry all of a sudden, or has it been building up over time? Physical hunger grows gradually over time, while emotional hunger hits you suddenly and with a sense of urgency.
Could I eat anything, or do I crave something specific? The idea is that when we're physically hungry, we'll eat just about anything. But if the thought of eating an apple or broccoli just won't do, then we know we're not physically hungry. "The Broccoli Test" is a tool we use with clients in our one-on-one coaching program. Click here to read more about it.
Does it feel like I could eat and feel full, or that I could eat and eat and won't be able to stop? And this question is the most telling because of this truth: No amount of food will fill the void of emotional hunger. That's why you can eat an entire sleeve of cookies and still want to go back for more.
When we're emotionally eating, we're not eating because we're physically hungry. Instead, we're eating to escape negative emotions, like boredom, stress, or anxiety. (2)
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When this is the case, food isn't the answer. In fact, it's never about the food we're craving. It's about what the food allows us to avoid.
Sure, eating will help you feel better for a little while, but the food only treats the symptoms, not the root cause.
If you are worried about a situation at work...
If you're anxious about everything that needs to be done around the house...
If you're searching for ways to avoid doing the things that need to be done...
Food won't solve any of those problems. You'll only find the answer when you deal with the root cause.
Emotional eating occurs when you turn to food for comfort when bored, stressed, or anxious...
And when we recognize our hunger is emotional and link it back to an emotion, we've been given the gift of insight. But that's not where the story ends. If you decide to stop eating when you're not hungry, you'll have to find a new way to deal with negative feelings.
To set realistic expectations, I'm not saying that finding a new strategy is always simple. Negative emotions can be challenging to deal with, and learning to cope with them in a way that doesn't involve food takes time, effort, and hard work.
And while you may find a winning technique right away, that's not always the case. The truth is you may have to try many different things and fail many times before you find a set of tools that work for you.
Check out our post 17 Fabulously Easy Tips and Tricks to Stop Mindlessly Eating if you need ideas on what to do instead of eating.
To find a solution, you may have to experiment with a number of different options first...
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help people curb overeating and better handle their emotions. (3) And while meditation may very well do the trick for you, many people would rather try something else. So instead, going for a stroll or jog around the neighborhood might be a better way to help you deal with what you're feeling.
Having worked with thousands of people to beat emotional eating over the last 15 years, I can tell you that no single strategy works for everyone. It takes trial and error and learning from what works and what doesn't.
Rather than eat, you could go for a walk, take a bath, or talk to a friend. But I've found that the best approach is the one that addresses the root cause head-on.
Let's say you're worried about a problem at work. Maybe the best thing to do is talk to a friend and get their perspective on the situation. Then, look for one or two things you can do to change things for the better.
If you're bored at home because there's nothing to do between 7 p.m. and bedtime, consider watching a new show, joining a gym, or taking a walk with a friend.
And if something doesn't work out right away, just don't be too hard on yourself. It's helpful to know that many people don't come up with the perfect approach right out of the gate.
The motto "Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward" is the most important thing to keep in mind. Let's ditch the perfectionist mindset because, in the end, failing is proof that you're making progress.
We live in a culture that glorifies quick tips, shortcuts, and fast fixes. Everyone seems to be looking for the easy button... the magic pill that will solve all their problems with zero effort.
And if that takes too long or gets too difficult, they're ready to give up and start the hunt all over.
But, here's the deal:
Emotional eating can't be beaten by constantly starting and stopping. Finding new strategies to deal with boredom, anxiety, and stress takes time, effort, and work. And anyone who says otherwise is selling snake oil.
Changing your mindset, psychology, and habits around food takes daily, consistent action.
And when you put effort into forming new habits, amazing things happen. Like the fact that one day, you'll look up and discover that you, not your cravings, are in control.
Of course, this goes against everything we hear from the health and fitness industry about how you can change anything with a 30-day challenge. The way I see it, the key to beating emotional eating isn't about what we do occasionally; it's about what we do consistently.
And don't worry about how long it will take. Just picture yourself five years from now...
Will it matter in the long run if it took you three months, six months, or even a year to gain control of your emotional eating? Or will you simply care about the fact that you're in control now?
I meet a lot of people who want to change their eating habits but only stick with it until their motivation runs out or when things get tough. And if that describes the spot you find yourself in, the answer isn't to stop and look for something new. It's finding a way to stick with it.
At MyBodyTutor, we specialize in helping people stay on track with daily accountability and coaching. Because having someone to guide, support, and hold you accountable is what you need to take action and see this through.
So, if you find yourself eating even when you aren't hungry, let me know. Let's talk about how our one-on-one coaching program can help.
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