You’ve been dealing with “it” for a while…emotional eating, that is.
How I wish I could tell you that you could find freedom from emotional eating by following a simple, six-step plan. But, as we both know, it’s more complex than that.
However, there are a few steps to finding freedom from emotional eating you’ve probably been overlooking, and that, my friend, means there’s room for improvement.
These steps are super practical and they may hold the key to breaking this overeating bondage in your life.
Why Do We Emotionally Eat?
Before we can understand how to find freedom from emotional eating, we need to know why we do it. While we could write an entire book full of “whys,” here are three common themes that’ll arise for many.
Emotional Eating Trigger#1: “busy-ness”
Our lives are crazy and we have very little time or space for quietness. Our pace of life is go-go-go from sunup to sundown. So often we’re managing several things all at once, with little space or place for the Lord to speak to us.
We have the radio on, the TV on, Netflix is on autoplay…and our emotions are just running in the background. We don’t hear the quiet voices of our own spirits and the Spirit of God speaking to us.
Sometimes, it has to come to the point where they’re yelling for us to listen. Been there? That’s where emotions can become very painful, and the desperate need to emotionally eat can surface out of there.
EMOTIONAL EATING TRIGGER#2:negative self-talk
We were never meant to be our own greatest enemies. You’re a great encourager to others. You encourage your children, friends, and even strangers. But, you are negative, demanding, and darn near impossible to please when it comes to you.
In this case, the only way to “escape” that mean-girl voice is to zone out with a little bit of food. Escaping your negative self-talk can be a major cause of emotional overeating.
EMOTIONAL EATING TRIGGER#3:delicious food
We live in a world with hyper-palatable food. Processed foods are cheap, convenient, and super tasty (cue your tastebuds!).
When we’re in the mood to escape and turn to food, processed foods can bring out different hormonal reactions. These hormones make it very hard to stop eating.
The Lord has declared all foods clean. But it’s important to understand that it’s very easy to overeat processed foods. If you’re already in an emotional state, hyper-palatable foods can add fuel to the fire.
Emotional Eating is Not Always Bad
We generally think of emotional eating as negative, but that’s not always true. After all, God created emotions and food. In some cases, emotional eating can be a good thing.
Emotionally Eating as Part of Fellowship
Think of times when you tend to eat out of happiness and joy. Maybe a wedding or a birthday party. It’s not a negative emotion, but it’s still an emotional driver.
You may not be eating to excess, but you aren’t really hungry. The food probably isn’t all that nourishing. But it’s a great time to embrace emotional eating.
Emotionally Eating as a Distress Signal
Emotional eating can also serve as a distress signal.
As I mentioned before, we’re often plowing through life, not really paying attention to everything that’s going on around us. We aren’t even registering what’s happening inside our minds and hearts and many of our thoughts and feelings are running on autopilot.
Then suddenly we find ourselves staring into the refrigerator, scrounging for something sweet. That craving is like a dashboard indicator light cueing you that something is a little bit off (or a lot off!) in your spirit, soul, and/or body.
If you use this not as an opportunity for judgment, but as a cue to check in with yourself (“Hey, what’s going on?”), you may find a great opportunity for self-care and future growth.
I find myself scrounging through the pantry seeking some crunch.
I’m not hungry and it’s not mealtime.
I’ve learned through non-judgment that I probably need a nap or to step away from the project that I’m working on. I need a walk, some time with a book, or a moment to cuddle up with my kid.
It’s a distress signal that I’ve reached capacity and it’s time to do something different.
Find Freedom From Emotional Eating by Understanding Emotions
God could have made us robotic but He didn’t. He chose to wire us with the ability to feel deep, strong emotions.
Notice that we can feel things like God feels them. He made us in His image and He feels emotions.
We need to recognize that emotions are a gift from God. They aren’t something we should shun or avoid. You shouldn’t judge yourself based on your emotions…because God made them.
Find Freedom From Emotional Eating by Recognizing That You Can’t Control Emotions
Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer? The emotional reaction happens right then! You can’t control it…the reaction is a split second behind the crunch of your fingernail.
But, after that, the ball is in your court and you get to decide what to do next. You can hold your tongue and deal with the pain. Or you can say things that you may regret later. Things that may also be hurtful.
And if someone else makes a comment that pierces you to the core, that initial emotional reaction of hurt is out of your control. Don’t panic. Don’t judge yourself over it.
Instead, name it for what it is, then make a decision on how you want to handle it. We can’t control how other people feel or react and nor can they control what we do.
A gentle and peace-driven reaction is one that will take time to develop. As you start to become more aware of your emotions, you may find yourself not recognizing your reactions for quite some time…you’ve cursed the hammer and the chair you were attempting to fix.
But after allowing the Holy Spirit to do a work in your heart, you realize that you stop stewing in negative emotions and, instead of staying in that funk for a few days, you’re able to catch that unhappy place sooner and sooner.
Find Freedom From Emotional Eating by Recognizing That Emotions Are Not Always Accurate
Someone says something hurtful and you have an emotional reaction…
Your feelings are hurt. It feels like an equation A+B=C.
But, in reality, your assumption doesn’t take into account the original intent of the person who made the comment.
Your best friend may not have intended to hurt your feelings or meant anything negative by what she said. In fact, in her mind, she paid you a compliment. In this case, your emotions weren’t accurate in how they perceived the situation– and you paid for it in emotional eating.
The reality is that our initial reactions tend to be a bit on the dramatic side. And, that’s how God designed us as a means of staying safe.
Imagine seeing a stick in the grass. You immediately panic and think, “Snake!” But, after a moment to think and assess the situation, you see that it’s just a stick. Emotions are just messages sent from our primal brain, trying to protect us in any way possible.
It’s important to know that it’s still our responsibility to handle them. Once the thoughts enter our minds, what we do with them is up to us.
Find Freedom from Emotional Eating by Taking Emotions to the Lord
Even though you can’t control your initial emotions, you do need to control them before they take over your life. When an emotion pops in, it needs to be taken to the Lord because He can help you discern the truth.
Remember, we won’t always recognize if feelings are true or false right away.
When my daughter was little, she would toddle around the yard and scour for random things. She would always bring them to me, and ask, “Mommy, what is this?”
This is the same childlike faith we can have toward the Lord. Whenever things are happening we just don’t understand, we can go to Him to seek His wisdom… “Oh, God, I don’t understand this. What is happening?”
He is the Author of your emotions, and He can discern it for you. Then, you can respond with wisdom.
Find Freedom From Emotional Eating by Meeting the Need
The easiest way to manage those unruly emotions that lead to overeating is to preemptively meet the need before it reaches a panic state that ends with cookie crumbs matted in your hair.
After you seek God (see the section above), what does His Spirit reveal to you?
Maybe you’re tired or angry. Maybe you’re stressed. Ask Him to show you what’s going on so you can meet the need in advance.
Learn what it is that gets you to the boiling point. What makes your cup overfull in an unwanted way?
This is something the Lord can and will reveal to you!
You may need to say “no” to things you don’t have time for, hire someone to help at your house, or get your husband or kids to lend a hand.
You may need to lower your personal expectation about what you can comfortably do, let go of control, and pray about things before taking them on.
You’re meeting the need before it gets to the point of explosion so that you can move forward.
Here’s an example: Let’s say that you’re exhausted. Every night you put the kids to bed. You know you should be going to bed, but you’re wired from your overwhelming or stressful day.
Rather than focusing on staying up and fighting the food (because we know that’s going to be a losing battle), you can simply meet the need by getting more sleep. Whether it’s going to bed earlier or sleeping in later.
Focus on the true need. Then it will be easier to avoid the emotional eating.
Find Freedom From Emotional Eating by Pausing and Learning from Your Mistakes
You will make mistakes. That’s a realistic expectation but one that is drenched in grace.
You’re imperfect and God has always known that. He sent Jesus because of it. When you make mistakes, the best thing to do is pause and learn from them.
- What did you need to learn from that situation?
- Was the food helpful?
- Can you meet that need another way?
Experiment with other outlets in a gentle and kind way. Don’t try to make your mistakes become heavy and burdensome, but let them inspire you to change.
That’s 180 degrees from being focused on the negative behaviors that make you feel condemned and separated from God. Instead, lock arms with the Holy Spirit, and move forward into a plan that He leads you to!
Ultimately, this struggle is making us more like Christ. If God has allowed you to have some emotional eating challenges, it can feel frustrating. And you probably wonder why He hasn’t released you from this burden.
When you stop and pay attention, you can see the great plan and purpose that He has in all of this…He’s allowing it to draw you to Him.
Don’t lose heart! He knows this is where you need to be. Again, don’t lose heart, but use this as a chance to grow and thank God for all of the little victories. Continue to step toward Him.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper, I’ve included a link below for my free download “How the Bible Can Make You Binge-Proof.” It will walk you through a few steps in how to overcome overeating.
You’ll also want to grab the “10 Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Overeating” freebie that includes the ten most common overeating drivers as well as simple tips for preemptively meeting the need. It will be really helpful to you, and you’re going to love it!
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, Amazon #1 Best Selling Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.