Hello, my name is Camille Martin, and I am an emotional eater.
Actually, because I don’t like labels and because I want to be totally accurate, let me revise that statement:
My name is Camille Martin, and I trained myself to eat emotionally – but now I have the tools to manage it.
I want you to pick up on a critical point here. Notice I’m not saying that I used to be an emotional eater and now I’m not.
I trained myself to eat emotionally – which means that it’s not a personality defect or a sign of inner worthlessness.
And I now manage my tendency to do it – deliberately and with control.
Emotional Eating Isn’t Shameful
For a very long time, I shamed myself for my emotional eating, feeling worthless and out of control. And ironically, this self-shaming is what pushed me to keep doing it.
Once I figured out that it had nothing to do with who I was, I was able to take control and develop tactics to manage it.
Second only to doing the work of figuring out why you eat emotionally in the first place is having a daily plan in place to override your emotional eating tendencies – rather than rolling out of the bed and hoping for the best.
Most of us approach our day like we’re wandering out into the middle of the highway, praying we don’t get hit by an 18-wheeler.
We hope we’ll have enough willpower to not binge on cookies in the afternoon or to keep ourselves from zoning out after dinner in front of the TV with a carton of ice cream.
The problem is that emotional eating is just that: eating in response to emotions rather than true hunger.
So when you get stressed out from the kids fighting after school or when you’re exhausted at the end of a long day, you’re almost certainly going to binge on the cookies or down the ice cream.
But as I said, these actions aren’t a sign of weakness – you’ve trained yourself to eat in response to certain triggers.
The bad news is that you will always have the triggers. And you may never fully get rid of your tendency to eat emotionally.
However, you can put a plan in place to prevent yourself from actually doing it.
Four Strategies to Keep Emotional Eating in Check
Here are four strategies I use every single day to make sure that my emotional eating doesn’t derail my health goals:
1. Know what you’re going to eat. I determine what I’m going to eat each day, first thing in the morning.
For example, I may decide that I’m going to have green juice for breakfast, salad for lunch, broccoli casserole for dinner (because that’s what my kids want), and then maybe celery sticks or blueberries for a snack.
Deciding ahead of time what I’m going to eat leaves no margin for error. I don’t have to ask the deadly question, “What do I feel like eating?” and then watch the whole day fall apart after I eat what I feel like eating.
Bonus points: Write it down and set the times. Writing it down makes it real, and if you know you’re having a snack at 10:00 am, you won’t cave in at the first sign of mid-morning hunger and gorge yourself with Oreos (aka, what you feel like eating).
2. Make your meal an event. When it’s time to eat, prepare your meal on an actual plate and sit down at the table and eat it.
No eating out of a bag or a to-go box. No eating while you pack your kids’ lunches or unload the dishwasher.
You’ve already chosen what you’re going to eat, so portion out the amount, put it on a plate, and sit down and eat.
Treating your meal as an event gives the act of eating the respect and reverence it deserves. You are fueling your body – not treating it as a garbage dump.
And choosing to prepare it – rather than eating it out of a container – means you’ll be more mindful while you eat it.
Even if you do choose to eat something less-than-healthy, the simple act of carefully preparing it and serving it on a plate means you’ll pay closer attention to what you’re doing and likely eat less of it.
Bonus points: Use a smaller plate – if your tendency is to load up your plate, you’ll naturally eat less.
3. Eat without distractions. This is super, super effective – and surprisingly hard to do.
Force yourself to close your laptop, turn off the TV, or put the book away. Sit down at the table with your plate and nothing else and focus on what you’re eating.
When you pay attention to your food, you’ll eat more slowly and deliberately and therefore eat less.
Eating with zero distractions also makes you totally present so you can finally “see” what you’re thinking.
The way you eat is a direct result of the thoughts you think – we just don’t notice them because we’re usually totally zoned out.
Identifying thoughts is critical to changing your emotional eating, because once you can identify them, you can change them.
Eating without distractions also makes you appreciate your food – and if you’re eating something that’s not worth appreciating, you can use that info to make a better choice next time.
Bonus points: Eat outside or play relaxing music while you eat.
4. Prep your next meal at the end of the current meal. This is my secret weapon in totally beating emotional eating.
There is nothing more deadly than to wait until you’re hungry to prepare something healthy. Why? Because you won’t feel like it and, therefore, won’t do it.
Then what happens? You eat whatever’s in front of you. And unless you’ve developed the habit of plating your food and eating it mindfully without distractions, you’re going to binge or eat way more than you should.
Prepping ahead of time leaves nothing to chance. If you prep something healthy to eat, it’s easy to eat healthy.
And prepping while you’re not actually hungry makes it more likely that you’ll introduce more variety into your meals. You’ll branch out more instead of eating the same comfort, fill-up foods you (currently) love.
Bonus points: Set aside 15 minutes each day of non-negotiable prep time. I do this every morning without fail.
The best part is that by committing to that time even when I think I’ve got nothing left to prep, I end up doing something creative, like browsing through a cookbook for a new recipe or reorganizing a drawer.
It gives me a spark of creativity and helps make my kitchen a place I enjoy being in – rather than a place that stresses me out. (If you want more ideas to create a streamlined and super-healthy kitchen, get my free guide here.)
How to Supercharge Your Plan
If you want to not only keep yourself from eating emotionally but get to the root of it as well, keep a journal with you throughout your day to make notes of what you’re thinking.
This is especially helpful while you’re eating. Notice your thoughts before, during, and after your meal. You will be amazed at the thoughts you have, which typically go completely unnoticed.
Once you identify your thoughts (“I’m starving,” “I worked out this morning, so I deserve a reward,” “The kids are on my last nerve,” for example), you can start changing them. You can also identify what triggers need to be managed.
Aim for Progress, Not Perfection
You don’t need to use all of the strategies, all of the time. Start with one, then add another.
Remember, all or nothing is not your friend. You’re in this for the long haul, not to lose ten pounds in two weeks.
And above all, no shaming yourself. That’s the best way I know how to make sure you find yourself at the bottom of a carton of Ben and Jerry’s.
You are not out of control and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just reading this post means that you’re committed to improving yourself and your health – rather than desperately searching for the next diet to make the weight magically disappear.
Let’s agree to call emotional eating what it is: something you trained yourself to do a long, long time ago as a way to neutralize pain.
Let’s also agree to stop calling it what it is not: something shameful and out-of-control that you do because you’re weak and have no willpower.
And let’s definitely agree to take charge of it and stop letting it interfere with all the health goals you have — and the beautiful, sparkling life you deserve to be living.
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Thank you Camille!! I am definitely the emotional eater, and this spoke to me. While I make good choices, most of the time, I love to eat.
Hi Patricia! I totally get it. I love to eat, too! I think emotional eating goes beyond loving to eat; it’s eating to fill yourself up, rather than taking pleasure in the food itself. But recognizing the difference is a great first step in learning how to manage eating emotionally. Thanks for commenting!
I find that when you stop one part of your life from reacting emotionally that it begins to move into other parts of your life ;consequently changing other decisions and making you feel more in control….
That is so true! Managing your triggers and learning how to stop reacting emotionally are HUGE in keeping yourself from eating emotionally. I need to practice not telling myself how exhausted and overwhelmed I am so I don’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed! Those are the two feelings that most often push me to eat emotionally. Thank you for commenting!
I loved this post!! Your words are so carefully chosen and your information is what I have been needing for so long. The way you conveyed this message helps me to leave the shame of emotional eating behind and to know that all I need to do is retrain myself to eat food that nourishes me and my body instead of food that is slowly or quickly stealing my joy.
Interesting that in the quest to curtail emotional pain we not only add more emotional pain but we might also add physical pain to ourselves with toxic food.
Thank you for speaking your truth to help others!!
You are so inspiring.
Cindy, you are so sweet! I’m so glad this post resonated with you. Yes, it’s true that by eating in response to emotions, we create more negative emotions, and the cycle continues. Something we all need to do is give ourselves a massive break and be nice to ourselves! xoxo