In Part 1 of this blog series I explained what a hunger scale is and how to use it. Then in Part 2 I gave you 3 tips to make following a hunger scale easier. However, I have saved the best for last. Often times the biggest barrier to following a hunger scale is emotional eating. Keep in mind there is an entire spectrum of emotions from happy to anxious to bored, all the way to sad. Many different emotions can affect our desire to eat.
3 Steps to Stop Emotional Eating so You Can Follow the Hunger Scale
- Identify your emotion or feeling: It’s not uncommon to start a diet or a “new healthy lifestyle” with a surge of willpower. Just the newness of your healthy eating plan can be enough to make saying no to that cookie or bag of chips seem pretty easy. Over time, if you don’t get to the root of why you may eat when you aren’t hungry eventually that surge of willpower will dwindle. Try to keep a log of emotions that you are feeling every time you want to eat but aren’t hungry. Some examples might be: boredom, stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, procrastination, or simply “because”. Keep this log for at least a month. Then reflect back on your journal and identify the top 3 reasons you eat, aside from hunger.
- Keep a List of Distractions: Now that you have identified the top 3 non-hunger reasons you eat you can start to make a list of distractions or alternate coping strategies. For example, if you want to eat when you are anxious maybe your list of distractions would contain taking a walk, cleaning, or listening to music. If you eat when you are sad maybe you could put on that list of distractions to call a friend, journal your feelings, or watch a funny movie. Keep a separate list for each of the top 3 reasons you identified.
- Practice the 15 Minute Rule: When you really want to eat something, but aren’t hungry, rather than tell yourself you can’t have it, simply try to delay yourself for 15 minutes. This would be a great time to refer to your list of distractions. Sometimes you will forget about the craving all together but if you don’t and you still really want it, go ahead and have what you really want, but keep it to a moderate portion size. If after eating it, you find yourself wanting more then apply the 15 minute rule again. I will share briefly a quick tip that I practice every time I eat ice cream. First I portion out enough to satisfy my craving but not a portion large enough to make me feel above a 6 on the hunger scale. This will vary based on how long it’s been since my last meal. Then before I take my first bite I decide what I am going to do when I am finished. Often times it is changing the laundry, taking the kids for a bath, returning a few emails or something along those lines. Then I eat the ice cream undistracted and mindfully. When I finish, and usually want seconds, I tell myself to go do what I’ve already planned on doing and if I want more later, I can have it. I am not going to say I never go back for seconds after I finish my pre-planned task but it is much easier to say no when the flavor of the ice cream isn’t fresh on my mind and tongue. A lot of times I forget about a second portion all together.
Feel free to share any additional strategies you use in the comments below. Keep in mind that when we have a craving the idea here isn’t to avoid eating the food we are craving but rather to delay eating it until our body (by using the hunger scale) says it’s time to eat. If you can do that along with eating a diet that is consistently balanced with fruits, veggies, whole food carbs, protein, and healthy fats then you should be pretty happy with yourself.
If you are looking for a non-diet approach to living in a body you love without constantly worrying about what you eat then schedule a free Empowered Eating Mini-Session Today!