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4 Steps to Overcoming Emotional Eating For Good

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Emotional eating is a very delicate topic:
Discussing emotional eating is avoided most of the time, because people feel uncomfortable, and they just don’t want to go there. But I’m gonna go there! Emotional eating, also known as stress eating, is actually something that most people have to deal with, at least from time to time, but all too often it becomes a chronic and life controlling problem. I want to dive into this topic that is so often avoided, because so many people are suffering in silence because of it.
I was doing some research, and a survey I recently conducted showed that 88% of people who said they were unhealthy in some form, admitted to suffering from stress eating, overeating, or emotional eating. In other words, they’re dealing with their stress and their emotions by going to food.

This really caught my attention because that’s a big number. It’s not just a matter of being unhealthy, overweight, or not being happy with the way you look physically. I’ve repeatedly found throughout my 15 years in the fitness industry working closely with my students, that emotional eating has been a major contributor to almost ALL the issues that nearly all of them have had to deal with in their lives. And since most people who struggle with emotional eating feel tremendous shame about the behavior, they tend to quietly suffer in silence. I want to put an end to that!
Emotional eating, let's break this down:
Strong emotions, either good or bad, are almost always directly connected to emotional eating, eating disorders, unhealthy eating habits, which often results in being overweight. These include eating too much, eating when emotions are high or when stressful situations happen, or even the opposite, not eating or not eating enough. All these things are directly connected to problems maintaining a healthy weight. So the main cause, or root, of stress eating and emotional eating usually goes back to some type of emotional wound (or any situation that caused an emotional response), somewhere in a person's past.

I’m going to break down exactly what emotional eating is and how it gets started in someone's life, and then share the method I use with my students that is helping them end stress eating and emotional eating for good. In order to address the unwanted behavior, we must first identify “the root,” or the place where the problem started.

*What did it come from? How does it affect us? What can we DO about it?*

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What is the emotional eating quadrant?

So I want to share with you the 4 step process I’ve put together that is helping my students overcome this devastating problem. Here it is:

1.)Identify the emotional root cause.
              What have we been through in our past that hurt our heart, and it                    still hurts every time we think about it?

But it's not just the painful things. It can be emotional pain or trauma, or it can be emotional excitement over a reward of some kind. It’s any circumstance that someone's gone through that had an impact on their life, and especially their emotions. I’m not necessarily talking about physical trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or even physical violence at all, although it certainly could be. I’m talking about anything that caused an emotional experience, good or bad.
So we need to take a look back over our lifetime. What were the situations that happened back then? Was it being left alone, abuse, rejection, were we bullied, did our parents just not care, maybe they were workaholics and just didn’t have time for us? Or it could be the opposite. Were we rewarded with food for doing a good job, or comforted with food when we had a bad day? The list is endless, but we need to begin to identify these things.

And what did we do back then? Was it: cookies, nachos with cheese, cereal, candy, chips and dip, ice cream? Think about it. Where did turning to food in times of stress or strong emotion start? Those are the roots.
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2.)What is triggering those emotional responses?
              What happens in our life now that triggers our emotion respond                      in a similar way?

Next we need to take a look at what’s happening NOW. We need to begin to identify those things that happen in our life that trigger the emotions and cause us to do the behaviors we want to change. That means that when we feel the strong emotions or the big stressors, we need to pause and analyze the situation. What happens in our daily life that typically “sends us” to the behavior NOW?

For example, does it happen when we feel helpless? How about when we didn’t get the contract, or we lost a big client? Maybe it happens when we DID get the contract or the new big client. Are we triggered when someone criticizes us, or when we worked hard and the boss doesn’t even notice? Maybe our spouse blows us off when we need them to just take a moment and squeeze our hand or give us a hug. The trauma or reward isn’t happening now, but there are some things that are triggering the same response.

When we start to identify the triggers, just having that awareness can help us pause for a moment and choose another response instead of running to the kitchen to self-comfort, or de-stress, or reward ourselves with food.

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3.)How do we respond to the triggers emotionally & physically?
       Emotional: 
➤ Do we get depressed? 
➤ Do we get angry? 
➤ Do we get crazy thoughts? 
➤ Do we get sad? 

       Physical:
➤ Do we get a knot in our stomach?
➤ Do we experience shortness of breath?
➤ Do we feel nauseous?
➤ Do all our muscles tighten up?

***What are our emotional & physical responses to the triggers?***

When our emotions get triggered, we can feel the same emotional chaos or pleasure that the original trauma caused. There can be conflict & confusion, or joy & excitement inside. It can make us feel like there's something wrong with us that can't be fixed, and now we'll stay stuck forever with this behavior that we hate but can't seem to overcome no matter how hard we try. But that is NOT the case at all.

When the triggers happen and the feelings come, either emotional or physical… Once again, that is the time to analyze. We need to get good at identifying the feelings, both physical and emotional, and consciously association them with the trigger.

When our emotions get triggered by current events and we let ourselves feel the feelings, we’re learning, “This is what “those things” do to me.” There is always a thought before the feeling, and a feeling before the action.

Emotional triggers usually affect us in our physical body, in our emotions, in our thoughts, and in our entire mindset. In other words they affect us body, soul, and spirit. But now we’re going to learn to make a different choice.
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4.)Then, what action do we take?

➤ Is that action aggressive? 
➤ Do we want to break something? 
➤ Do we start hurting other people?
➤ Do we get into fights? 
➤ Do we speak hurtful, angry words? 
➤ Do we want to sleep all day? 
➤ Do we want to hurt ourselves?
➤ Do we turn to food?
➤ Do we overindulge?
➤ Do we binge on certain foods?
➤ Do we eat simply to cope with the emotional response to the triggers?
It doesn’t matter what the root causes were. What matters is that when they happened, we resorted to emotional eating, which then became a habit, an unhealthy habit, and we’re still doing it today. Whenever those things get triggered in our everyday life, at home, on the job, standing in line at the bank, wherever… It still automatically takes us directly to that response, action, or habit.
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So, here are the 4 simple steps:
1. What was the root cause?
2. What triggers us now?
3. What is our emotional & physical response?
4. What is our action?
       That is our coping mechanism!

If we can start answering these questions, we will begin to find out why we emotionally eat, why we binge on foods we’re trying so hard not to eat, why we have an eating disorder, why we make unhealthy choices, and why we’re not taking care of ourselves the way we should be. When we find our root cause for being overweight (the traumas), and how it affects us (the triggers, the emotional responses, the actions), THEN we can begin to implement strategies to overcome the problems and change the habits.
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So What can we DO about it?
Emotional Eating is a learned behavior. What does that mean? It means that at some point in our life, something happened and we resorted to food as an emotional outlet to relieve the stress or reward the success. Therefore, since we learned that behavior, we can now change our existing behavior by learning a new one. In other words, we can unlearn the emotional eating behavior and replace it with a new and healthier behavior whenever those moments of stress or strong emotional reactions happen.

The idea is to choose a new coping behavior. It can literally be anything. Then when we get triggered, we talk to ourselves… “In the past when I felt angry, I used to eat chocolate, but now I choose to go for a walk instead.”

So when those triggers happen that used to send us to the kitchen, we stop and make a decision to use the new behavior instead of turning to food. With time and practice, we recondition ourselves to use the new behavior until it becomes automatic.
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I always encourage my students to go back over this information again and again, to start applying this 4 step method to their lives and their situations. When they do that, they begin to find the answers… answers they may have been trying to find for years, sometimes decades.

Emotional eating, stress eating, eating disorders, binge eating, overeating, and unhealthy choices of all kinds can be changed. We just need to be armed with the right information and be willing to take action.

***And always remember, You are INCREDIBLE!***

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