Emotional eating can be a powerful habit, and overcoming it can feel overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a simple strategy that you can leverage to take control of emotional eating. Used correctly, this strategy can be your power tool. It allows you to focus your effort with laser-like precision, it helps you reduce struggles with emotional eating, and it can reduce your need for willpower as well as minimize your cravings and urges to overeat.
You can even use this simple strategy to increase motivation and energy as you create peace with food.
What is this holy grail that I speak of? It’s what I call the curiosity strategy and it’s what I recommend to smart, busy women who are ready to take control of emotional eating.
What does it mean to use curiosity to take control of emotional eating?
The curiosity strategy begins with an assumption that there are important reasons that you are eating the way that you are – even if you don’t like the way that you are eating.
If you are eating “too much” sugar, or snacking constantly throughout your workday, there is a reason. If you overeat at night after everyone else is asleep, there is a reason. If you are in a cycle of losing weight and then regaining it, there is a reason for this too.
The curiosity strategy assumes that when you understand the reasons for emotional eating and overeating, you can address them.
When you are able to respond to these real hungers, food loses its power. Not only that, when you address your underlying needs, life gets better, and you fell more motivated to continue toward your goal.
How to use curiosity to take control of emotional eating
For many people, the easiest way to begin using curiosity is through writing. Grab a notebook (paper and pen work better than typing on a keyboard) and get comfortable.
Take some time to sit quietly and consider the following prompts without judgment. There are no right answers. Give yourself permission not to know all the answers to the questions that you ask. Simply focus on what you do know. Write for at least three minutes in response to each prompt. Keep your hand moving. If you don’t know what to write, just write what comes up (even if it’s “I don’t know what to write”).
Give yourself time and space to be curious.
In a typical 24 hour day, what one period is the most challenging when it comes to emotional eating and what do you know about why this is?
Begin by choosing one part of your day to focus on. Is it late afternoon or right before bed? Maybe it’s while you are preparing dinner or when you are trying to complete a difficult project at work. What is significant about this particular situation or time period. What’s going on during this time of day?
During this same time period, what do you know about how you are feeling (physically and emotionally)? What do you know about what you might be needing or wanting that isn’t food?
Are you tired, stressed, or bored? Frustrated or anxious or feeling confused? Maybe you’re feeling unanchored or sleepy. Again, there are no right answers. Focus on what you know (or think you might know) about your situation. Do the same with what you know about what you might be needing or craving that isn’t food.
You may hit the wall of “I don’t know.” Don’t let it stop you. Just keep your hand moving for three minutes. Don’t judge what you write as right or wrong – because there is no such thing. Just be curious about what emerges.
Brainstorm a list of ways you might address, or simply acknowledge the needs or feelings you came up with above.
Write down everything that occurs to you. Be curious and stretch your thinking. Challenge yourself to keep brainstorming for at least three minutes. It’s tough, but curiosity needs time and space to pay off.
Design a seven day experiment.
If you were to try something new – something that might make this one time of day work even a little bit better for you – what could you commit to for the next seven days? Your mission is to create a plan that you know you can follow through on for a week. Don’t overwhelm yourself with big plans. What could help you take an inch more control of emotional eating during this time of day?
Use curiosity over the next week to begin to take control of emotional eating
Using curiosity means using the seven day experiment you designed to learn and improve. Did you decide to take a five minute break and do deep breathing instead of snacking at work? Be curious about how this helps, and what doesn’t work with this new strategy. Could you adjust your experiment to work even better for you? If you design an experiment to avoid stress eating after work by going for a short walk, and you find yourself not walking, use curiosity to explore why the walk isn’t working for you and what might be a better way to take care of your stress. What are you learning about why you eat and what else helps meet that need?
When you use curiosity, the things that don’t go well are as valuable as the things that do
Everything is an opportunity for learning. By asking questions you’ll get better at identifying where to focus your energy for best results. You’ll discover more and more about why food is powerful and what you are really needing and wanting (that isn’t food). As you get better and better at feeding these real hidden hungers, not only will cravings be reduced, you’ll feel better and have an easier time feeling peaceful with food.
Curiosity is a never-ending process
You can always learn more and you can often make things work even better or more easily. Asking what you need, how you are feeling, and what’s working (as well as what isn’t) will help you design your unique path for creating lasting peace with food and freedom from emotional eating and overeating.