Actress Rebel Wilson, 41, recently opened up on Instagram about her struggles with emotional eating, sharing with her followers a photo from “when I was at my most unhealthiest—being overweight and indulging way too much with junk food. Using food to numb my emotions.” This followed the passing of her father, who died of a heart attack.
She shared that “it was such a sad time” and that she was “in so much pain.” However, she wrote that she looks back and is so proud of what she has become and achieved today, sharing that her goal with the post was to send encouragement to others.
“And just wanted to send out some encouragement to everyone out there struggling with weight or body issues or emotional eating. I feel you. I know what it’s like,” she wrote. “But it’s never too late to start improving yourself and trying to be the best version of YOU possible. It’s not a race and it’s not a competition—it’s about respecting yourself and doing what’s best for YOU.”
Wilson declared that declared 2020 was her “year of health” last year, and embarked on a journey focused on wellness and weight loss. The Australian actress combined workouts with her trainer, Jono Castano, with a diet called The Mayr Method, which resulted in a 60+ pound weight loss.
Wilson shared that for her, emotional eating meant using food to numb her emotions. But it can present itself in many ways.
That’s because, according to Marsac, emotional eating is a “maladaptive coping mechanism,” or a negative way of dealing with adverse feelings.
She also notes that by eating a lot of food, emotional eating involves literal ‘stuffing’ of food into your mouth, mimicking the stuffing down of emotions that someone would rather avoid. “Eating can also feel like filling a void such as emptiness,” says Marsac.
Tips to stop emotional eating
If you struggle with emotional eating, here are 8 tips to help you overcome it.
1. Understand the difference between emotional cravings and physical hunger
Emotional cravings can be so strong, it’s hard to distinguish between the two, notes Marsac, but these questions may help distinguish between emotional reaction and physical need. Ask yourself: Did the need to eat come on suddenly? Is it urgent?
“That imminent need to eat is an indication it is emotionally driven. Physical signs of hunger are gradual, they’re non-urgent,” says Marsac. “Our bodies are adaptive and can wait long periods of time for food. Emotional urges demand instant satisfaction.”
She also points out that with emotional eating, you may crave junk foods—things that are salty, sweet, or fried.
“Physical hunger will crave what our body needs to function: Certain vitamins and minerals, fiber, carbohydrate, healthy fats,” says Marsac. “If you find yourself craving all the goodies, it’s a good indication it’s coming from an emotional response.”
2. Increase your awareness around your relationship with food.
“Identify the emotional, environmental and time triggers for your emotional eating,” says Dr. Lam. “Is it a specific emotion like stress, fear, or loneliness? Is it a specific time of day, like late at night? Is it a specific circumstance, like a conversation with a boss or an argument with a partner? One technique to help identify triggers is to keep a food journal. Track when, what, and where you eat and correlate with your emotions in the moment.”
“Cravings come on suddenly and emotional eaters often report feeling powerless. Remember, emotions are energy driven, and they only remain at their energy level if we fuel them with our thoughts or behaviors,” says Marsac. “Doing a quick check-in with your mind and body can gain insight into your current emotional state. Acknowledge your emotion. Wait a few minutes. This is a good time to implement a healthy coping skill to handle your emotions instead of eating.”
4. Practice emotional regulation skills
“Learn to notice and name your emotions,” says Dr. Lam. “Slow down and take a breath, sense into how you are feeling, name the feeling, learn to befriend and accept your feelings instead of judging them, and helping regulate your emotions through exercises like stretching, running, dancing, yoga, mindfulness, and self-soothing skills. Turn towards emotions with curiosity and acceptance, rather than numb emotions with food.”
5. Learn to accept your feelings
“Feelings have no free will. They orbit around our lives and make themselves known throughout. It’s how we respond to them, interact with them, and behave towards them that influences our mood,” says Marsac. “Try not to let the feeling (or avoiding the feeling) consume your thoughts. It might be helpful to remember they will not linger forever and we are not our feelings, rather people who experience the feeling.”
6. Be conscious of how you feel when eating food
“Be fully present to the processing of choosing and eating your food,” says Dr. Lam. “Slow down the chewing process and check in with your body to see how full you are. Engage your senses and pay attention to the texture, taste, smell, and color of food.”
7. Try distress tolerance skills
“Make it harder to access your go-to food for emotional eating, finding replacement activities that are more adaptive and aligned with your long term goals,” says Dr. Lam. “Practice ‘if/then’ statements around triggers for emotional eating, such as “if I feel sad and have the urge to do emotional eating, I will do five push-ups and listen to my favorite music.”
8. Ask for help
“When you’ve tried halting emotional eating only to find yourself more stressed and self-defeated, finding a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps identify negative emotions and the unproductive thoughts associated,” says Marsac. “CBT flips the script and helps a person replace these negative thought patterns with productive ones.”
Adds Dr. Lam, “Build connections. Emotional eating thrives in isolation. The best way to overcome emotional eating is to share what’s going on and experience acceptance within a non-judgmental community. Consider joining a support group, and have accountability partners you can reach out to when you experience a strong urge to do emotional eating.”