Recently I received an email from a reader asking whether it is really helpful to focus on what to do instead of stress eating or other types of emotional eating. Her concern was that focusing on what to do instead of eating might just help develop more ways to avoid what’s really going on – busy work that keeps us distracted from the reason the overeating is happening—it’s a great question.
Certainly, if we spend our lives running away from or distracting ourselves from the reasons we overeat, emotional eating is never going to get any better—and neither is our life. One kind of strategy (in this case, distraction) doesn’t fit every situation and distraction is just one type of approach to consider when it comes to not eating so much.
That said, there are times when a little bit of distraction (something that gets your mind off of eating or helps you forget about the chocolate in your desk drawer) might be exactly what will help you make the choice that you want to make in the moment.
Other times, you’ll be more successful if your strategy addresses what is really going on at a deeper level. Are you overwhelmed? You probably need some tools to reduce the overload and to take care of yourself and your feelings. Eating because you are anxious? Ultimately, you’ll want strategies to cope with the anxiety in ways that are more effective than emotional eating.
Of course, in this action-packed world, there are also times when we need help doing nothing or getting better at simply being in the midst of challenging or uncomfortable times.
The issue of what to do instead of eating is not at all simple—despite the fact that many weight loss specialists gloss over it entirely. You know– they’ll warn you to be alert for emotional eating “so that you don’t do it.” Really? This advice misses the most crucial step!
If you are going to avoid stress eating or eating because you are frustrated, or nervous eating—heck, if you just want to stay away from comfort eating—willpower and a “just don’t do it” approach will only take you so far. When the going gets tough, determination alone probably won’t be enough.
So what’s the missing piece?
Want to stop overeating? A key to success is crafting a plan for what you will do INSTEAD.
What will you do instead of reaching for the second portion, instead of going through the drive-thru after a stressful day at work, instead of mindlessly snacking as you watch TV? Sometimes we get so focused on creating a plan for what we will eat to lose weight, we forget to fill in the blanks around what we will do with all those times and emotions and situations where we are choosing not to turn to food.
Want to eat differently? Do yourself a favor. Before you start your new plan, make a list of what I call Instead Strategies. Make a list of things you will try when food is calling to you but you don’t really need it. Brainstorm ideas for what you will do when you’ve had a difficult day and you don’t want to stress eat. Remember to include ideas that work in the short term and also longer-term strategies. Consider strategies that help you feel cared for as well as strategies that address the cause of your overeating (or the triggers) directly. Make sure your list isn’t all about staying distracted. If you rely too heavily on these types of techniques, you’ll probably (no–definitely) run out of steam.
Want more help? I devote an entire module to Instead Strategies in my Missing Peace program, my comprehensive step-by-step program for breaking free from emotional eating. I teach you the three very different types of instead strategies and show you how to determine where your current approach needs strengthening. You also learn how to tailor the type of strategy to your specific situation and to how you are feeling at that moment
What Instead Strategies will you test this week?
Take good care,