Yes, on today’s show I’ll be looking Emotional eating or comfort eating as it’s more commonly known. This is another episode which I’ve put together in response to the emotions and stresses you may be feeling during the COVID 19 situation, but this also is a problem that many people have, myself included, in our day to day lives as well.
In the last episode, the second of my interview based shows, I spoke with keynote speaker and professional mindset coach Dee Bleakley on the topic of mindset and how having the correct outlook can help us through our life and work on our journey towards success and a productive and happy life. Please go back and have a listen if you missed it. Dee was a fantastic guest and will give you a definite boost of positivity if you need it.
This topic always reminds me of the Steve Coogan character Alan Partridge who was medically addicted to Toblerone at one point. It was a funny concept but this bad habit can certainly stray into the area of addiction for many of us.
Do you think that you eat more when you’re feeling stressed? Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full? Do you eat to feel better? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself? Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend? Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
How many of you have found yourselves demolishing a packet of chips, a bag of candy or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s after a long hard day at work? I certainly have. When that starts to become a regular thing though then you need to have a good look at what’s causing the behaviour.
We actually discussed this is the last episode when Dee talked about his short term Nutella addiction, but listen up as I look in more detail at what comfort eating is what causes it and how we can begin to tackle the problem.
Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us. Peter De Vries Unquote
I don’t talk about this often here but I was an actor for many years before I started directing films and coordinating fight sequences and I did rather well at it. I stopped 8 years ago in order to concentrate on other things but it was a big part of my life.
I’ll never forget whilst I trained on the 3 year acting course at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh, acting in The Country Wife however and struggling so hard with the lines that I started comfort eating to help me along. The Country Wife is a restoration comedy and the language in it, unlike Shakespearean language which I enjoyed doing, was an absolute nightmare to learn. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d been cast as Sparkish, an excellent and fun part for some, but whose dialogue was so shallow that he tended to near repeat himself in scene after scene. I struggled and I struggled but those lines just haunted me.
Here’s what I remember most about that play, aside from forgetting my lines during the opening night and barely getting past what should have been my funniest moment, my entrance. I ate my way through it. I had a couple of mars bars, one was not enough, but two mars bars before every show. Mars bars are a chocolate and caramel snack for all my non UK listeners out there. That was when I first realised that I was eating food to deal with stress. Luckily for me that run of the show only lasted 5 nights. I think if it’s run much longer I would have needed a new costume.
What other dungeon is so dark as one's own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one's self! Nathaniel Hawthorne Unquote
I have struggled on and off with comfort eating for stress and boredom eating for, well, boredom, for years now, and it occurred to me that some of you might be too.
As many of you will already have realised, we don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. And when we do, we tend to reach for junk food, sweets, and other comforting but unhealthy foods. Put simply, Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately though, this sort of eating doesn’t fix our problems. In fact, it usually makes us feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating, and somewhere down the line problems with being overweight and poor fitness.
Helpguide.org really helped me put this show together, and they also show a diagram of what they call the emotional eating cycle which I’ll post a version of in the show notes.
They say about the cycle “Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.” Unquote
This emotional eating cycle might start with something upsetting you, and for me this can just be a difficult moment or small incident that disrupts my content state of mind. I’ve had emotional eating triggered by a random email from a difficult client, or a nasty online comment or even just because I have to make an uncomfortable phone call or write a particularly difficult paragraph of this show - to name but a few. Next up you have an overwhelming urge to eat, and it is overwhelming isn’t it? I often find myself on some form of autopilot heading for the cupboard and seeking a snack just because of the small triggers that I mentioned a minute ago. Next on the emotional eating cycle is that you eat more than you should, and that’s for sure. In fact I rarely do this because I’m actually hungry it’s just easy to keep on comforting myself. The last thing on the emotional cycle is that you feel guilty or powerless over food and that I recognise too.
When people have eating disorders, they can't actually see what they truly look like because they're so clouded with their emotions. Paula Patton Unquote
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and feels overwhelming and urgent but just doesn’t give satisfaction in the same way that actual hunger does. It craves specific foods such as junk food and sweets that provide an instant fix or sugar rush. It can lead on to mindless eating like I said before, almost an autopilot of more and more snacks without satisfaction. And it isn’t located in the stomach – NO - the craving comes from your head as your brain seeks specific textures, tastes and smells and after it all you feel regret and guilt for emotional eating and it never satisfies you beyond the instant that it is in your mouth.
Kirstie Alley said my food demons are Chinese food, sugar, butter.
Do you know what your food demons are? Mine are possibly jelly sweets or candy, chocolate and crisps or I should say chips for my international friends. I think a good place to start with all of this is to tackle where our heads are and to help with this let’s look at what the differences between physical hunger and comfort eating are.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly
Physical hunger comes on gradually
Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly
Physical hunger can wait
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods
Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.
Physical hunger stops when you’re full
Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame
Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself
Next let’s look at emotional triggers.
If you can use your high level thinking head and recognise the situations which provoke you into eating like this, you can at least try to tackle them.
Top of my list is – Stress, and I’d include anxiety with this. I’ll be releasing an episode all about stress next week. – Stress when it really gets on top of you is not just in your mind. Your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol so it is a very physical thing too. My brain never figured this out until it was far too late for me but that information could help you. You see cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more stress you feel in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief. This is information worth knowing if we are to counter the problem.
The next major thing that triggers emotional eating for me is - Boredom – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do? I know I do. If you feel unfulfilled, dissatisfied and empty, as many of us in the creative fields do all too often, then food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. It briefly distracts us from our underlying feelings of purposelessness. If I am working away from home I often binge on snacks in the hotel room after hours as I feel I have nothing better to do. Have you had that trouble too? It may even be worse right now with the lockdown that many of us have been facing.
The next thing that my research suggested as a cause for emotional eating was Childhood habits – Did your parents reward good behaviour with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or give sweets when you were down? These habits can often carry over into adulthood. Watch out for that one, it might come in under the radar.
Helpguide.corg points out that getting together with other people for a meal, although a great way to relieve stress, can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group than to control yourself so watch out for this one and try and take control if you realise it’s happening.
Anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, Relationship conflicts, work or other stressors, Fatigue, Financial pressures, Health problems and shame can all trigger emotional eating. And as many of the articles I’ve been reading on this topic point out –
while you’re numbing yourself with food
you avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.
What worries you, masters you. John Locke Unquote
So let’s get down to the brass tacks of how to deal with all of this. Fundamentally, engaging your high level thinking head is essential to tackle this one. Also you might want to go back and check those episodes of mine which deal with habit, as in order to stop this from happening to you time and again you need to put serious time and effort into breaking the habit. Dee talked about it in the last show. He rewired his brain to stop going for Nutella by instead training it to go to peanut butter. He was slowly tricking his brain into not following his old habits – This is exactly the thing that those earlier episodes cover.
For now though, here are a few solutions.
The first suggestion I have here is to stop and think for 5 minutes before you give in to a craving.
Helpguide.org says that Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision. Unquote
So when you feel this coming on try putting it off for five minutes, or just start with one minute. Try taking a glass of water instead. An exchange, like Dee was using for a lesser evil may help wean your mind away from the bad choice to something better.
I am aware that your resolve at these times will likely be very low, so help it along perhaps by placing a DON’T EAT or THINK FOR 5 MINUTES sign on the fridge or on the cupboard door where you keep your biscuits. While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Give the craving time to pass. At least then, even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.
If you are having difficulty telling real hunger from emotional hunger, then Mayoclinic.org suggests KEEPING A FOOD DIARY. Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food. And with all of my suggestions that involve writing stuff down, I realise you possibly can’t be bothered to do it. Remember though, that when you write stuff down, you are 42% more likely to do it.
Probably the main thing that I do to stop emotional eating is to TAKE AWAY TEMPTATION. Don't keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home – I’ve done this for many years as I figured if I really want some candy the walk to the shops and back will at least counter some of the negative effects of the food. They say that you should never do your weekly shop if you are feeling hungry and I couldn’t agree more but the same can be said if you feel angry or upset. If you are feeling any of the emotions that you know trigger emotional eating then postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check. Your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without thinking about what you're doing. Have you ever went shopping like this and returned with ice cream and other comfort foods, possibly even at the cost of what you actually went there for? If that’s you, like it is me sometimes too, then be aware of this one and watch out.
Eating is a natural way to feel happy. Overeating isn't. Deepak Chopra Unquote
The next obvious tip is to try and REDUCE YOUR STRESS and other triggering emotions. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing. This podcast exists to try and help you reduce your feelings of stress to some extent, so try and create a life where stress isn’t in control. I’ll be doing that episode on stress very soon so look out for it - it’s already prepped I just put it aside whilst I dealt with the more immediate issues arising during the current crisis. It’ll be coming soon.
Next up, try GETTING SOME SUPPORT. You're more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group. I have definitely found this tricky in the past as some people around me can’t accept that I am sometimes unhappy about my weight and constantly sabotage my efforts to lose weight by gifting me snacks etc that they know I like. This can be frustrating even though, for them, it comes from a good place. If it’s happening to you, you must have a serious talk with them. If you've tried self-help options but you still can't control emotional eating, CONSIDER THERAPY WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. Therapy can help you understand why you eat emotionally and learn coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you have an eating disorder, which can be connected to emotional eating. As I’ve said on this show several times before, therapy is not something to be ashamed of and can be much cheaper than you think.
If boredom eating is your problem then instead of snacking when you're not hungry, DISTRACT YOURSELF and substitute a healthier behaviour. Take a walk or listen to music, read, or have like I suggested a glass of water. If you can’t distract yourself, the this substitution technique when it comes to emotional eating can be really helpful.
The other notable thing I’ve come across in my research is DON'T DEPRIVE YOURSELF. When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories too much, eat the same foods repeatedly and banish treats. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions, so eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
On that same note you should Snack healthy. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dips or nuts. Or try lower calorie versions of your favourite foods to see if they satisfy your craving. On films that I have produced and directed I try to make sure there are bottles of water and fruit options for the cast and crew to eat. The energy from the fruit releases at a slower rate and stops sugar crashes making the team sleepy and unfocused after lunch.
Quentin L. Cook said that Temporary setbacks are overshadowed by persistence and as the journey to stop your emotional eating is possibly going to be fraught with setbacks I want you to make plans to move past them. If you have an episode of emotional eating, you must forgive yourself and start fresh the next day.
Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that'll lead to better health.
If you take the time to, in effect, agree a contract with yourself to reduce or remove emotional eating from your life then you are far far far more likely to achieve it. Within this contract you can plan out how you are going to do this, with strategies derived from the suggestions that I have given you.
To be successful, you have to believe in yourself and stay motivated by an ongoing belief that you can accomplish anything you set out to do. You can’t be happy and successful all the time; that’s not realistic. But you can learn to focus on your successes, not on your failures. You can push yourself to keep seeking solutions rather than losing hope or giving up when you hit an obstacle. Susan McQuillan Unquote
So get your higher level thinking head on and take control of your life. Make a commitment to strategize your way out of this most difficult of problems. If you do this THEN I WILL TOO. I don’t choose these topics lightly, and I definitely have an issue with emotional eating.
As always I hope that you have found this episode to be informative and engaging. I wish you well in dealing with whatever eating disorder that you may have. I found an awesome website whilst researching this show so go to www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk if you need help on this or indeed on any other kind of eating disorder for some great advice from a wonderful charity.
I’d like to give a very big shout out today to Yorkshire Man & Creative Soul James MacDonald who is @00jamesmac on twitter, for being the very first person to take me up on my challenge to screen grab the show as you listen to it on your phone podcast app and post it on social media with a link to where you can listen to it. I really appreciate the support James. Promoting the show is just killing me on top of the creation of these episodes and I am very grateful for the time you took to do that. If anyone out there wants to help the show, please consider doing the same for a shout out in a future show.
If you have a question for a future mailbag show which as the name suggests are shows in which I deal with listeners questions then please get in touch on email@example.com with the words Mail Bag Episode in the subject line.
This episode was sponsored by the awesome Christina Littleson who presents the arts show on Pulse Christina Pulse 98.4FM which covers the west of Scoland. You can also get it anywhere on the planet via the Tune-up app or o their official website at pulseonair.co.uk. There's guests, chat, film and TV reviews and recommendations, what’s on and more related to film, theatre, music and all other forms of the arts. Christina goes live on Mondays between 1pm and 3pm. You can find out more about Christina’s show at facebook.com/artsonair.
Now I don’t have to do these promotions for people but Christina has been a tremendous supporter of this show over the years and I am more than happy to give her that bit of promotion back.
I’ll be back in a few days with another new episode to help you through the current crisis or through life in general. It’s an interview with one of my very favourite trainers for freelancers working in the media industries, David Thomas of David Thomas Media, and I think it will be going out on Thursday. Seriously, you don’t want to miss this one it’s excellent. After that show though the show will return to it’s normal slots of 1 show per week, releasing on Sundays.
For now though I will end with some words of wisdom from Helen Keller , who said, All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.
Now, don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright. Just take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!
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