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4 Simple Steps to Manage Emotional Eating

It takes only four simple steps to manage your emotions. The process involves handling memories that may trigger and intensify emotional upset in the present as well as the liberal use of self-compassion in clearing these memories. This approach assumes that memory snippets which are similar to current events automatically erupt and intensify what we’re feeling without our realizing that they do so. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know that when affective memories get triggered, our current feelings grow way out of proportion to a current situation, just the sort of thing that drives emotional eating.

When you’re upset or want to eat when you’re not hungry, do the following:
1. Explore and identify what you’re feeling (sad, lonely, abandoned, ashamed, etc.).
Name the specific emotion. You may know it right off or it may take a while to identify it.
2. Review your history and match the current situation or emotion to one you felt
frequently in childhood and have often felt since then—e.g., afraid to speak your needs, left out, scared to depend on others, invalidated, invisible, ashamed, helpless, needing to be good or perfect, unlovable, defective, or anxious about uncertainty. Acknowledge that old memories of similar situations are intensifying your feelings now.
3. Once you understand that memory is driving your present emotional pain, respond
with self-compassion for whatever you went through. In a soothing voice, say kind things to yourself such as: “You suffered so much back then. You deserved a lot more than what you got as a child. I’m so sorry you had such a hard time when you were younger. That was terrible stuff you went through.” Stress that these things happened to you previously, back then, long ago, whenever that was, which tells your brain that they are over and done, not happening now. Don’t be angry at yourself, ashamed that you didn’t do better in earlier times, minimize what you were feeling, or wish you hadn’t felt it. Just give yourself verbal loving, self-compassion.
4. Remind yourself that you are not in that situation now, that instead you are
Safe, Strong, and Secure. Tell yourself that what happened before is similar to what is occurring now, and that although you felt crummy back then, you can handle things now. Place yourself squarely and firmly in the present—no longer a helpless child or a frightened teenager. You’re not at the mercy of distressing feelings because you’re mature and resourceful, an adult who can soothe the feelings that erupt from memory or those that upset you now, a mature person who can take care of yourself. Do not, under any circumstances, keep replaying distressing memories. Instead, go back and forth between giving yourself loving compassion for what happened to you back then and reassuring yourself that that time is over, gone, past, and done and you’re okay now.

With practice, you’ll learn to manage your emotions which will lead to decreased emotional eating. Use this strategy whenever you’re upset, until it becomes second nature to you.