Managing Your Emotions: Coping Skills
By Diane Petrella, MSW
You’ve eaten your meals for the day. All is well. Then…there’s that sensation. Hunger. But, are you hungry…or sad? Do you want a second helping…or do you want to feel less anxious? Do you want to eat something…or is something eating at you? Learn a strategy to hold down eating when hunger isn’t the issue.
STOP – BREATHE – REFLECT - CHOOSE
This four step process, outlined in The Wellness Book by Herbert Benson, MD and Eileen M. Stuart, RN, M.S. is an effective stress management technique easily adapted to manage emotional eating.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is using food as a coping mechanism to manage difficult feelings. It doesn’t necessarily mean satisfying a sweet tooth craving or eating an extra helping of your friend’s baked pasta. The difference is the emotional motivation underlying the urge to eat. For example, do you simply want an extra helping of fantastic tasting food, or do you feel anxious and are desperately trying to calm yourself?
Emotional eating gains momentum by an often frenzied response to overwhelming feelings. Difficult feelings are more easily managed when you’re able to pause and reflect on what you’re experiencing. The following strategy helps you create space between your initial thought, and subsequent behavior, of overeating. You then regain control to make a conscious choice. This helps you manage your emotions in a self-loving way rather than through compulsive overeating which usually leads to self-loathing and guilt.
Four Simple Steps
Step 1: Stop
The moment you recognize the impulse to overeat use a “thought-stopping” technique. This imagery technique acts like the pause button on your television remote control. For example, visualize in your mind a large, red stop sign, or an outstretched hand in a HALT position. Find an image that commands you to stop before overeating. You are creating space between your thoughts and your actions.
Step 2: Breathe
Now, take a few moments and focus your attention on your breathing. This helps to calm your emotions. For some emotions, however, you may need a more structured process to regain control. If so, try this: count each breath up to ten, and repeat that cycle several times. Another strategy is to focus your attention on your right big toe (or any specific body part) for about sixty seconds. You will immediately experience relief as your mind shifts to a neutral state.
Step 3: Reflect
Now, take a moment and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and “Why do I want to eat right now?” Are you feeling something difficult and don’t know how to cope? Try to identify that feeling and give it a name. Is it sadness, loneliness, fear, anxiety? Maybe you’re confused about what you’re feeling. That’s OK. Simply reflecting on your experience interrupts the cycle of emotional eating and strengthens inner control.
Step 4: Choose
Now it’s time to choose what to do. An empowering question to ask yourself is, “How do I want to feel one hour from now?” This question helps link your choice with a desired outcome. If you still want to eat, that’s fine. Eat mindfully and with conscious awareness. Sit down at a table that is set with a plate, utensils, a napkin, and even a candle! If you choose to eat, own that choice with confidence. Or, choose from a list of calming or uplifting activities that help you manage your emotions in a self-loving way.
What to choose? Here are some suggestions: Write in a journal. Call a friend. Take a walk. Color a mandala. Take a bath. Organize a closet. Wash the floor. Pray. Read an inspirational book. Watch a funny movie.
What’s on your list?
Diane Petrella, MSW is a psychotherapist and life coach. She offers her clients a spiritual approach to weight loss and helps them develop a loving, respectful relationship with their bodies. Receive a free copy of Diane’s Seven Easy & Effortless Weight Loss Secrets by signing up for her monthly e-newsletter, Living Lightly, for spiritual insights and tips to release weight with confidence and love. To contact Diane directly visit her website at www.dianepetrella.com