Do you think it’s crazy that you can live a dream life and still not feel fulfilled?
Well, I’ve been feeling a definite sense of dissatisfaction for the past month, and it has led the emotional eating side of me to seek out food to fill and excite this unfulfilled part of my life. Under the guise of ‘celebrating’, ‘treating’, and ‘relaxing’, my emotional eating tries to get its way.
Luckily, I am totally conscious of this AND have a ton of strategies and techniques up my sleeve and I’ve been eating pretty ok. But these coping strategies don’t really create lasting change.
The dissatisfaction and the eating urges are still there, and I:
a) Don’t want to spend the time and energy ‘coping’; and
b) Want to get to the bottom of my dissatisfaction and heal it.
What does gratitude have to do with emotional eating?
Research shows that having a positive mood helps people make better food choices. In this study specifically, they looked at how many cookies 2 groups of women ate. Women in both groups were given plates of chocolate chip cookies and told to eat as many as they wanted. Group 1 was the control group, but group 2 got to watch a funny video that enhanced their mood. The ladies who had a better mood because of the video ate, on average, between 1-3 cookies LESS than the women who didn’t have that mood boost.
Ok, so boosting your mood helps control emotional eating.
Now how can you boost your mood? I’m glad you asked!
Time for more research!
There are lots of studies showing the very real, and very awesome mood-boosting effects of gratitude. And the effects are far-reaching and can last for weeks!
Activities as simple as verbally thanking someone, writing a thank you note, mentally going over things you’re grateful for, or gratitude journaling all helped various research participants feel happier… and more fulfilled.
So, it sounded like practicing gratitude would help me to not only boost my mood and prevent emotional eating, but to confront and overcome my dissatisfaction with daily life – helping me both cope in-the-moment, AND heal the deeper cause.
Is this just a ‘bandaid’? Won’t it just wear off and not fix anything?
When you’re working on healing your emotional eating, there are three levels you can approach it on (I’m writing more about this soon, but here it is, briefly):
Level 1: By looking at and changing things about a specific situation.
For example, you know you can never resist the doughnuts that are kept in the break room each morning, so you change the specific situation by not going into the break room.
Level 2: You look at, change, and develop your reactions and coping strategies on a broader level.
For example, you realize it’s not just doughnuts in the break room, but that you’re so bored at work that you’re using food to fill that hole. You develop new routines, hobbies, and ways of working that fill you up without needing food.
Level 3: You look at and change your whole outlook and understanding of yourself and the world.
For example, you realize that the new routine and hobbies are also fast becoming boring. But you discover that your whole experience of life and the world is constructed by you, inside your head. You resolve and practice finding fulfillment and gratitude in your life. Soon it becomes automatic and once boring tasks are full of promise and potential.
The gratitude strategy can begin and be used for any of these three levels. None is ‘better’ than the other – it all depends on where you’re at and what’s really underneath your emotional eating. But, you can use gratitude at level 1, to short-circuit and certain urge or trigger. You can use it more broadly at level 2 to cultivate an attitude of gratitude to boost your mood and make emotional eating both less likely, and less intense. And then gratitude, if internalized and practiced often can change you at level 3, and transform who you are in the world, leaving situations that once left you surrounded by candy wrappers totally powerless over you.
My gratitude experiment
Over 7 days I:
- Wrote 3 notes – Short ‘thank you’ letters to people who have made my life awesome.
- Did 7 quick journal entries – at night before bed. I listed 1 thing I was thankful for in the wider world, 1 thing I was grateful for in my day, and 1 thing I was grateful to myself for.
- As many ‘in the moment’ gratitude interventions as necessary – for example, when confronted with emotional eating urges, unwanted behaviour, or grumpy low mood. This was me mentally listing 3 things I was grateful for right then.
Well, for the first 2-3 days, not much. I kept forgetting to do the journaling and having to do it the next morning, or retrospectively, and being grateful ‘in the moment’ was super difficult to remember.
Then, around day 3 or 4, it got easier and I started to get into it.
And I started to feel better.
I got inspired to run a workshop after thinking about how grateful I was for my training, my passion, and you guys as my readers. My gratitude made me feel re-energised to get back into my work – something I’d been feeling pretty flat about.
My relationship with my boyfriend feels more full of joy now that I look into his face and purposefully think about why I’m thankful to be with him. It creates this wellspring of joy that ripples out from me to him.
I feel more connected to those around me and the people I love because of writing the thank you letters. And that’s made me feel more supported, calmer about the future, and more energised and personally powerful.
And of course, this has all had a positive effect on how I feel about food! I’ve had far, far fewer emotional eating moments – and because I feel energised and inspired, it’s helped with any boredom eating too.
Because this whole gratitude thing was so darn effective at making me feel balanced, positive, and supported – I didn’t actually get the chance to try out an ‘in the moment’ gratitude intervention for emotional eating, but judging by how well this all felt, I’m pretty sure it is a powerful strategy.
Gratitude experiment? Total success!
So, what now?
Like I mentioned above, gratitude practice can span all three levels of purposeful life change. I’ve been using it at the broader second level, as a coping strategy. It’s my goal to keep this gentle practice going until it permeates deeper and gratitude becomes an automatic reaction and lens through which I view the world and my place in it.
Action steps for you
This is definitely a technique I will use with clients who are working on healing emotional eating. And it’s something you can do by yourself too! If you’re struggling with unwanted eating, take the focus away from the food, the eating, and the frustration for a few minutes each day, and refocus on what IS great about you, your life, and the world around you.
If you’re looking for a more concrete plan, here’s an outline:
1) Think of your unwanted eating trigger situations, thoughts, people, places, etc. Grab a piece of paper and imagine yourself with that trigger. Write down a name for it. Now, write down what you can be grateful for in that time/place/situation. Repeat with as many triggers as you can think of. If and when one arises, have the list with you – whip it out and focus on really feeling grateful.
2) Write some thank you notes to people in your life. They don’t have to be real people, alive people, or even people (write to your cat/dog/iguana if you like). You don’t have to give them the note if you really don’t want to. Just express your thanks for them and what they bring to your life.
3) Spend a little time each day to write down 3 things you’re grateful for. I chose 1 thing I was thankful for in the wider world, 1 thing I was grateful for in my day, and 1 thing I was grateful to myself for – but you can do whatever you like!
Take the challenge:
Try this out for 7 days and see how you feel – and please leave me a comment if you try this, I’d love to know how it went for you.