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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Byers, MA, LMHCA

‘Tis the Season for Emotional Eating

4 Tips to help navigate emotional eating during the holidays.

‘Tis the Season for Emotional Eating. As a psychotherapist and person in recovery from disordered eating, I emphatically believe we all are prone to use something –to not feel something. Our unique stories, trauma(s), present state of mind and various external factors can all play a role in what drives some of us to emotionally eat, especially during the holidays. This season in particular can bring immense amounts of stress, shame, sadness, sickness and striving.

Emotional eating serves as a coping strategy to help us survive from the mundane to the darkest of days. We often have shameful soundtracks (Thanks @JonAcuff) playing on a constant audio loop in our minds that act like gasoline fueling the fires of emotional eating. These soundtracks can sound like….

  • I should be doing more.

  • I’m overwhelmed and doing too much.

  • I can’t handle my kids, in-laws, spouse, parents, ex, sibling, etc.

  • I’m bored.

  • I don’t feel seen/loved/known.

  • I’m not enough.

  • I’m so stressed.

  • I’m terrified of love/intimacy.

  • I wish I was more like her/him/them.

  • I’m done.

When these soundtracks are on repeat, they lead to unhealthy behaviors, like emotional eating. These well worn neural pathways were likely formed years ago when we first learned that food can be soothing. You may find yourself in the fridge or cabinet without even realizing how you got there, which likely means you’re in a state of dissociation. Dissociation is a protective response to stress. The dissociated response is so automatic and conditioned from years of using food for soothing and comfort when life becomes stressful and overwhelming.

I know what it's like to dive into that bowl of red and green M&M’s, popping them like pills, knowing full well it will only numb the pain for milliseconds. Or maybe this sounds familiar. You start buying candy for stocking stuffers in November, secretly knowing you’ll be hiding out in the bedroom closet washing the day’s troubles down with candy the kids will never see on Christmas day. It was a brilliant strategy in my mind…I knew the little brown chocolates wrapped in foil would be there for me when no one else, including myself, could ease my stress. Mindlessly eating without truly tasting or enjoying anything I was gulping down always ended with the same results: more shame and even louder soundtracks.

After decades of disordered eating, I had so much fear and shame and knew I needed to make a change. I felt powerless. But today I'm grateful to share I was able to take one courageous step after another that has resulted in over 5 years in recovery. Healing one day at a time began with me bringing shame into the light so transformation could be possible. I was able to name the truth about myself and recognize that using food for comfort no longer served me and developed the capacity to soothe myself in healthier ways.

If you struggle with emotional eating, you’re not alone. There is hope…healing is possible!

4 Helpful Tips:

  1. Schedule 3 meals a day and 1-2 snacks. Some of us need structured meal times to help with cravings and compulsive eating. Having a plan is important for consistency and healthy nutrition.

  2. When possible, choose to eat in the presence of others vs. in isolation.

  3. Self-awareness is key. Pay close attention to both your thoughts and your feelings. When you find yourself obsessing or ruminating about food, notice what happened right before that may have been activating. What are you feeling? Can you hear the broken soundtrack? Writing it down in a journal can be helpful in identifying patterns.

  4. Practice a daily grounding exercise like this deep breathing Guided Body Scan Meditation by The Holistic Psychologist that will help you connect with your heart, body, and mind.

Take the next step.

It takes courage to reach out for support. I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here if you need support on your healing journey, are interested in individual therapy sessions, or want more information about a FREE 4-week emotionally integrative recovery workshop I'm leading starting in February.

Photo Credit: Brooke Lark


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