Emotional Eating -

Discover the Role of Food in Your Life & Avoid the Bodybuilder Binge Cycle

  • image descriptionKori Propst, MS
Emotional Eating
This article first appeared in Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Magazine

Emotions play a significant role in our food choices. Think about how often you would go to grandma’s house, and your favorite snack would be waiting for you. Food was associated with love! I recall visiting my grandparents and always making a cake. Every dinner was followed with a huge slice. Grandma would have crackers with cream cheese waiting for me and avocado sandwiches with the toast dripping with butter. It's not difficult to drift back to those moments, associating those foods with comfort. Have you been there?

I have plenty of clients who engage in mindless noshing during anxiety ridden situations, when they are feeling angry, sad, bored, or even scared. They are physically and psychologically unhealthy because of these habits. It’s natural to eat in certain situations not because you are hungry but because it's circumstantial. For example, you attend a wedding and have a piece of cake. When you feel at the mercy of food and eating becomes automatic when difficult emotions arise, it is problematic. Emotional eating can be viewed on a continuum. Most do not realize their behavior until we break down their eating process and identify when their eating occurs and under what circumstances.

The body goes through many hormonal changes on a daily basis. The food we eat helps to regulate many of these hormonal fluctuations. Eating is both psychologically and physiologically driven. Understanding how food will impact physiological reactions and subsequent emotional reactions can help to develop a plan for minimizing emotional "binges." Even the most determined, strict, and diligent bodybuilder, who is preparing for a competition and is under an incredibly stringent food intake plan, can struggle under pressure and end up eating to satisfy more than a biological need to quell hunger.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When do I eat? I often have my clients fill out a daily food log in order to glean some physically and emotionally valuable information. Look for patterns in regards to specifically troubling times, places, situations, people, trigger foods, amounts consumed, and finally, the emotion experienced around food.
  2. What are my eating triggers? Use episodes from the past.
  3. What alternative behaviors can I engage in?
  4. How can I reframe the negative thoughts to be more positive and less likely to create negative emotions? Thoughts lead to emotions, which lead to an action. Practice a new way of thinking to bypass the damaging emotion and behavior. Where the evidence is that your negative thought is true? Identify all the reasons why this is silly and the evidence for the exact opposite. Practice and you will notice how profoundly negative thinking affects you.
  5. Have you acknowledged what you’re experiencing? Say it out loud. Give it a voice. "I'm feeling very pressured right now. This isn't comfortable. I feel like eating a big slice of cake." Examine where those feelings are coming from. What was the trigger?
  6. Am I making a conscious decision? Am I aware? Remembering that eating is a choice can help us to slow down and be more present.
  7. Am I being good to myself? Treat yourself like you would a dear friend or family member. If you make a poor decision, rather than berating yourself, admit your poor decision and plan for how you can do it differently the next time.
  8. Am I hungry? If you are not eating balanced meals, you can experience cravings that you may mistake for emotional triggers. How often and in what proportions are you eating your calories?

You are worth taking the time to reflect on your habits, analyze your behaviors, and plan for more functional choices. Accept the challenge to understand the meaning of your behaviors and gain confidence at the same time.

Kori Propst holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, an MS in Counseling, and is pursuing her PhD in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. She is a WNBF Pro in bodybuilding, figure, and fit body. As the Wellness Director for the Diet Doc she created the Mental Edge Program to aid individuals in developing individualized strategies for optimal performance in their lives and for competing. She can be contacted at