The equestrian world can be a hard place at the best of times. The emotional, physical & psychological demands of the horsey world & competitive environment can lead to alot of stress placed upon individuals. For many, the coping mechanism can involve food & emotional eating.
There are many potential reasons & evidence to suggest why emotions cause us to overeat. Anything from money worries to competition stress to relationship issues can be the cause of overeating & emotional eating affects both women & men, although it has been found to be a more common issue amongst women.
Negative thoughts can leave us feeling deflated & down giving us a feeling of emptiness & it is believed that food can be used as a method to try to fill this empty feeling & give fulfilment, all be it temporarily. From a scientific point of view, hormones can trigger overeating, the cortisol hormone is our stress hormone & is responsible for enhancing our appetite. Changing cortisol levels can leave you craving foods as a response to the stress & more often you crave highly palatable foods encouraging you to overconsume.
It is important to understand the difference between emotional hunger & physical hunger before trying to help the situation. Emotional hunger comes on very abruptly, you usually crave particular foods & can feel a sense of guilt about the situation as opposed to physical hunger developing slowly over time & you use the cue of feeling satisfied & full to stop eating. The two can be easily confused so it is important to recognise the difference between the two types of hunger.
Emotional eating often leaves you feeling worse afterwards; you don’t get the feeling of fullness you were looking for & you end up more upset than before. This can turn into a vicious cycle that is hard to escape. There are many reasons to explain why we use food & overconsume from an emotional standpoint. Understanding the factors causing you to overeat are the first steps to acknowledging what is happening & moving away from the sense of short term satisfaction & emotional eating is a skill to be developed over time.
There is no simple answer to help people to stop overeating but focusing on your long term goals & considering the situation can help you to move away from the cycle of emotional eating. Consider the reasons causing you to emotionally eat, what are the triggers for you? Be in the present moment. To begin, write down the things that are causing you to feel stressed & then lead you to emotionally consume. This can help you to identify your triggers.
Write down your triggers, what happened that day, how did that make you feel, did it cause you to overconsume, why do you think you felt like this? Reflecting is the first step to identifying what is going on & writing down these feelings can be a good start to understand the reasons behind your actions.
Once you have established your triggers finding healthier ways to feed your emotions is the next step to focus on. Is there something healthier you could be doing rather than eating that could help you to fill the void?
Maybe talking to a friend, having a hot bath, going for a hack or getting out for a long dog walk can help to remove that urge to eat when you are feeling emotional & would be far healthier ways to manage your emotions in the long term.
Meditation is a fantastic self-practice to help you with your mindfulness. This can be a great tool to address your emotional eating; meditation pushes you to focus on the present & really be there. You learn to pay attention to the present moment & what is going on moving you away from that impulsive action in response to an emotion. Mindfulness is something that needs to be worked on overtime but if you make it a regular habit it will have some profound effects on your actions & thought processes for the better helping you stay in a more positive mindset.
Making a few small lifestyle changes such as getting better quality & longer sleep, spending time with family, moving more, trying to eat a healthier diet can all also help to combat the cycle. Making better choices will help you to feel more positive & energised in yourself leading you to be in a more positive & present state.
If it happens accept it.
Emotional eating is difficult to overcome, you eat due to a lack of fulfilment but then often once you have indulged & overconsumed you end up feeling worse for it. Feelings of guilt & lack of self-worth can creep in but this won’t help you move away from the difficult cycle, if it happens accept it, reflect on what happened & why this happened & learn from it. Don’t beat yourself up or waste time reflecting on it just accept the situation, move on, however uncomfortable it may be. Once you can acknowledge, accept & deal with your emotions then you will be able to start to move away from the crutch of needing to satisfy them through food.
There is not one simple answer to help stop emotional eating but hopefully, these steps will help you to be more present & aware of when you are feeling the urge to use food as an emotional response and help you move to a more positive mindset for the long run.