Over the years, I have become very good at managing my mood-induced eating. I personally think I am a great candidate to write about this topic because I am emotional and I do have a history of emotional eating. I’m not the type of person who can really go any amount of time (days or weeks) sticking to a perfect planned diet. That’s because I do use eating to cope! I mean, I could technically go all healthy, if I had nothing else to do, but what I mean is that it would affect other areas of my life.
Lately, I’ve noticed the urge to cope with food more strongly. This is because one of the courses I am taking is really personally triggering. It’s something I haven’t dealt with before… School on its own can be stressful if we don’t have a good method for managing time (something I’ve worked on and thankfully have!) but this is a whole new type of struggle. The actual content of the course is triggering to me.
Since I’ve taken notice of my new food issue, I’ve been working to be really mindful about the choices I make, and I wanted to share some of my tricks. They’re really common sense, but they work. As well, I will be making a list of other coping strategies for this particular problem in a later post, but the purpose of that is to ease the burden and not rely on just ONE way of coping, especially one that can have health consequences.
One of my strategies is to take the time to really check in with myself before making the plunge into eating. Historically, one of my worst food choices for emotional eating has been bread. Bread is high in calories, low in nutrition, and for me, it takes quite a lot of it to “hit” the spot and give me the soothing that I look to feel. So I try to stay away from bread when I do emotional eating.
If you are in a situation in which you feel that food might help you to cope, take several deep breaths with your eyes closed and try to really visualize and taste what will help to soothe your emotions and your struggle in that moment. Maybe it’s a burger and fries. Whatever it is, take a sensory survey of it in your mind’s eye. Then move on to the next thing; what else would help your emotions? Maybe it’s a falafel. Do that as many times as you can and try to give your choice a health rating. in the end, find the least harmful thing of the bunch that is still very satisfying and get that.
For me, today, it was dark chocolate chips. They are creamy, sweet and satisfying, but also relatively low in calories (I don’t need too many to feel good) and chocolate is thought to have health benefits. When I arrived at the bulk foods store, I stepped in with intention. I analyzed the food labels and chose to purchase 100 grams of their best dark chocolate chips. I am particularly satisfied with this choice because, only for these chocolate chips, the ingredients list begins with cacao rather than sugar.
Something else I do is to try to combine health with tastebud stimulation. I’m genuinely a health-food nut, despite being an emotional eater, so I really have to keep an eye on my budget and stay away from a lot of goji-berry type purchases that can run pretty deep into my pockets. But when I feel the stress of emotional eating, I know that not only for my health but also the ensuing extreme guilt that a cycle of unhealthy eating would inspire, I need to indulge my tastebuds in some of the fun healthy foods.
One of those treats for me is dried apricots. Okay, stay with me. My favourite way of eating dried apricots is first thing in the morning. I prepare them through the night by placing five or six in a bowl and filling the bowl with boiling water. I cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I eat the rehydrated apricots and drink the apricot-water. Literally one of the best treats I can think of! So delicious.
This is not a call to start soaking apricots, by no means. Rather, I’m trying to encourage you to explore the health-food aisle snacks before reaching for a bag of Lays or turning up at your McDonald’s drive-thru window. There are many healthful, plant-based yummy snacks and treats by companies that are genuinely trying to create something healthy. Let yourself indulge in those mindfully.
Another strategy that makes me less likely to “go off the rails” in times of emotional difficulty is to add variety and excitement to my meals. As a mostly plant-based eater, my diet consists of a lot of rice-and-bean type dishes, with a side of steamed veggies or salad. They’re super healthy and yummy, and there’s nothing wrong with those choices, but they can also get boring to the point where while the meal is physically satisfying, it’s not emotionally satisfying.
Tonight I decided to make something that would be more fun for dinner. I blended a large banana with pea protein, spinach, plant milk, ice cubes, and some peanut butter and garnished a smoothie bowl with some of my favourite toppings (goji berries, shredded coconut, and the chocolate chips).