Emotional eating | Break the cycle | Sara Bown
Emotional eating | Break the cycle | Sara Bown

Emotional eating | Break the cycle | Sara Bown

Break the cycle of emotional eating | Sara Bown Certified LIFE wellness Coach

Hello and welcome to part #2 of the post I made last week that talked about exercise. I kept this part ( emotional eating ) for last because having a healthy relationship with food and overcoming food addiction is not an easy topic and I wanted to be very responsible in sharing and covering as much as I possible can.  Here is part #1 talking about exercise if you missed it http://wp.me/p3N3fN-cd


 For those who don’t know me well, my name is Sara Bown and I live in Atlantic Canada. I am 36, married to my best friend ( this June makes 15 years ) and we are blessed with 3 amazing boys who are 12, 8 & 6 months. To learn a little more of where I started with regards to my own journey and battle with emotional eating, please visit this link. The link is to an article that Experience Life Magazine featured in their May 2013 issue. http://experiencelife.com/article/myself-again-sara-browns-success-story/
I have a facebook  motivational page ( Sara Bown Use it 2 lose it ) and I also work as a certified LIFE wellness coach. The information I am sharing in this blog will be based mostly on my own experience from being an emotional eater since my teen years,  so over 15 years and research I have gathered in this head of mine from reading and doing much research over the years along with the work I do with clients as a life wellness coach. Some info I have shared before and some info was added today. I will start by being very honest in saying I am not a doctor and my opinions should not be compared as such. I am simply sharing my own findings and beliefs. I have come a long way but believe that once an emotional eater, the possibility to fall back is always there so it is something I am very conscious of, even years into my own journey, so I never go back.

So what exactly is emotional eating anyway  ? Before we answer that, let’s get a very basic idea on why we all need food at all..YEP, I said basic, we need food to live, to survive, to give us the proper nutrients we need – as emotional eaters we take this beyond the action of eating to survive – Emotional eaters tend to eat when they are angry, stressed, sad, lonely, bored, depressed and in many cases even in times of  celebration. I used it for all emotions mentioned above and the end result was, I became addicted so there was really no occasion, it just became life. The big issue for many of us, is how emotional eating effects our weight and health, because this is deeper than a quick fix, it requires more long term work and many times digging deep and doing some work from the inside out. This was certainly needed for me.


Am I hungry or emotional ??

After years of being an emotional eater myself I honestly did not even know the difference, it was all mashed into ( who really cares….. I need and want food now ) It wasn’t until a few weeks into my journey that I started to feel actual hunger. When I started, I used an application called ” lose it ” where I could track my food and I followed the calorie limit it gave me pretty close.  Because of this, I stopped eating all the time and after a workout would actually feel hungry..my stomach would growl, I would get a headache, I would have very low energy, yep I was hungry. As emotional eaters we tend to turn to food, not for hunger but yet to help us cope with stressful or undesirable situations in our life, we even turn to emotional eating over guilt of emotionally eating.  It’s like a security blanket that is always there for us, it never judges us, we can eat day or night and in between, we can eat alone and because of the actual chemical reaction food gives us, it actually makes us feel better, well temporally anyway..

 ( Following info found online with resource links provided ) http://www.naturalnews.com/034478_junk_foods_addictive_brain_chemistry.html

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on a plethora of recent data that identifies junk food addiction as being just as serious as drug addiction. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrogenated oils, refined salt, and various other chemical preservatives found in processed junk food does the same thing to a person’s brain as cocaine does.

A 2010 study conducted by scientists at Scripps Research Institute (SRI) in Florida found that rats given free access to Hormel Foods Corp. bacon, Sara Lee Corp. pound cake, The Cheesecake Factory Inc. cheesecake, and Pillsbury Co. Creamy Supreme cake frosting, experienced significant changes in brain activity and function — and these changes mirrored those that occur in the brains of drug addicts.

Another study conducted by researchers at both the University of Texas in Austin (UT) and the Oregon Research Institute found that prolonged consumption of junk foods results in reduced activity in the striatum, a section of the forebrain that registers reward. In other words, just like with illicit drugs, those addicted to junk food require ever-increasing amounts of it to get the same “high.”

“The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) concerning the findings. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

In a correlative study, researchers identified a similarity in dopamine production levels between drug addicts and junk food addicts. Addiction to either one essentially causes the brain receptors that receive dopamine signals to lose their responsiveness. As a result, addicts require increasing amounts of the addictive substance to receive the same level of satisfaction.

Since processed foods are loaded with synthetic chemical additives, they are technically drugs themselves. So it is no wonder that millions of people around the world are addicted to them.

 ( back to my own words now ) The info above,  talks about how emotional eaters suffer the same addiction issues as someone using elicit drugs. Many times, we feel bad because we think or others think ” just stop eating “ It’s really not that easy. If emotional eating is like a drug, an addiction, maybe we should treat it as such and find out our ” why ” why are we addicted to food and sometimes the answer is as deep as we have created this habit over the years and other times, it may go deeper. Let me be clear in saying, there is more to breaking the habit than understanding why..it takes real honest to goodness work.  When we are alone at night, with no one to see our actions, we are the ones that need to hold ourselves accountable, we are the ones that need to do the work and no amount of the information we know can do the actual work for us. Also, if we have worked on finding a deep down why and can’t find one,  there may be non and it may be bad habits that have come into play. Never get to hung up on the why as at the end of the day, the cycle of emotional eating is broken with ACTION on our part. We can’t change past behavior but we can work on and change the now and future behavior !

Every day, emotional eaters will start diets and hold themselves to high standards, follow plan x , workout, drink the water and after a few days, maybe weeks, months…give in to some emotional eating and feel guilt and like a failure, many times hopeless. We are left with the feeling of ” I will never be able to do this ” and in many cases this is correct, because unless we take the time to deal with the ” emotional side of emotional eating ” it will feel like we are forever running an uphill battle. Think about this –  A person who has fallen and really cut their leg bad, they can cover it with something so no one including themselves can see the damage but without proper care, infection will set in, just because it was covered, does not change the reality of the infection underneath setting in.  I call the infection of emotional eating  ” hopelessness ” I am here to tell you now as living proof that if I can get over emotional eating and turn my life around after years ( over 15 ) being held by the grasp of emotional eating SO CAN YOU !! PLEASE understand, I will forever call myself a recovering addict, this awareness and truth allows me to stay on track with the lifestyle that works for me.



So, we have an idea of what emotional eating is and why it’s so hard to overcome but how DO we overcome it ??

This article from Livestrong pretty much covers much of what I would suggest, so I will be sharing what they suggest first and follow each statement with my own…

 10 steps to freedom from emotional eating,

Understand It

 The first step that you need to take to stop emotional eating is to understand that sometimes you eat to cope with emotions. You won’t be able to stop unless you recognize this. – Livestrong

Sounds pretty basic, kinda easy, right ?!? – It’s not, sometimes we don’t want to deal with the emotions, sometimes the emotions we are hiding from are painful but if you’re reading this today, you’re reading  because you want to change your life and this is a part of the process. You CAN do it and you will thank yourself for giving yourself the gift of healing – ALL habits, no matter how or why they started, are hard to break ! ~ Sara

Decrease Stress

Ask yourself if you ever eat to deal with stress. If you’re the type of person who grabs a container of cookies when you have to meet a big deadline at work or devours a bag of chips after a horrible date, you eat when you’re stressed. Learn to cope with stress in positive ways such as exercising, meditating or talking to a friend. – Livestrong

Again, sounds easy enough, but for many of us, we have turned to food for years, changing this will not happen over night and something I am more convinced on every day is that the #1 reason for emotional eaters to fail is because they begin a plan and want perfection, once they hit a road bump, they feel like they have failed ( again ) so why even bother to keep going. I say this all the time on my ( Sara Use it 2 lose it page ) and I will say it again….perfection is NOT required but hard work and dedication IS ” Progress NOT perfection ” and from working with clients over the years I have also come to learn how the huge problem of the ” all of nothing mentality ” can really cause much damage, paralyzing us from forward movement.  ~ Sara


Fight Boredom

 People often eat because they’re bored. If you’ve eaten a container of ice cream while watching television, you’re guilty of boredom eating. Add new things to your life to decrease boredom, such as taking cooking classes, joining a book club or learning to knit. – Livestrong

I love the suggestions given here but know from my emotional eating days that often we don’t want to be seen by others, for many, jut getting to work every day is a struggle – I myself never had a big problem with boredom as I have always been involved with my family, husband, children but exercise was and IS a great way for me to overcome boredom when I am alone. For stress, exercise is an awesome medication ( again, talk this part over with your doctor, I am not suggesting to stop medication for exercise ) but I am saying that so many people have given up doing extra things they love over the years…reading, horse riding, walking, coffee with a friend and we often say ( truly think ) we have no time but what if we replaced all the time and energy put into emotional eating and the guilt associated with this action with doing all these things we love…What if we did ?!  ~ Sara



Eat When Hungry

Before you put a bite of food in your mouth, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. If you’re not hungry, figure out why you want to eat and deal with that emotion. – Livestrong

” Eat When Hungry ” isn’t eating the problem ? NO !! Again, we need to eat to survive, eating is not the problem, abusing food is the problem. As I mentioned above, it may be hard to know if you’re hungry or emotional when you 1st start but be patience and don’t expect to perfect this over night. Once on a  healthier food schedule for a little time, you WILL KNOW hunger.  Also, we so often hear that everything comes down to calories in / calories out and of course there is scientific truth here but people can eat within their calories and manage to do so eating complete junk. The types of calories consumed in our overall wellness does matter. Are we eating healthy clean foods our body can break down and get rid of or are we eating junk that our body doesn’t know how to process and therefor holds on to ? I am not an expert in the science of it all but I do know from my own experience, much research and working with others that this thinking is required, how we get our energy and fuel matters ! If we eat a majority of junk, a huge reason why we feel overwhelmed, stressed and lethargic is because we aren’t feeding ourselves with any energy….we ride the highs of junk and suffer the extreme lows to come and the addiction part has us start the process ALL over. Many food companies don’t want us to know that the foods they are providing us with are addictive, they rely on addiction for sales. I would rather someone eat something in the clean eating food group or close to it that may be a little high in calories over something ” low fat ” filled with who knows what leaving us fell unsatisfied where the additives still have the same outcome as the filled with fat items leaving us wanting MORE !

Keep a Food Diary

Make yourself accountable for the things that you eat by keeping a food diary. Write down everything you consume, including beverages. – Livestrong

As I mentioned, when I started, I used   ” lose it ” to keep track of all the food I was eating and I found this method of accountability very helpful and I used this for about 5 months. ~ Sara


Check In


As you eat each meal, check in with yourself every few bites to make sure you’re still hungry. If you’re not, stop eating. – Livestrong

This may also be hard at 1st and living in the real world where we also have another 100 things on the go, I do not expect anyone to sit down, take two bites… ask yourself if you truly are hungry and continue this for an entire meal. With regards to my own journey and in working with others, I have realized  that we have to be careful not to add in habits that make us obsessed with food even more, only making things worse. The idea here that I do agree with is, always being mindful. Again, from having been there, I know that if we leave this to our own devices sometimes we will tell ourselves we are hungry even when we aren’t –  it’s a process and takes a little time, just don’t give up ~ Sara

Regulate Temptation

Make a grocery list each week and stick to it while you’re at the store. You’ll be less likely to eat a bag of cookies if you have to go out to get them when the mood strikes. – Livestrong

On the same token, it’s hard to make a bad food choice at 11pm if it’s not in the house..What really helped me was that on day one I started to find things  I could eat ” instead ” of the very unhealthy version. So ice cream became frozen yogurt or yogurt,  bags of chips became dry almond cereal that still provided the needed crunch. Sweets, cakes and cookies were replaced with fruits and raw veggies .. I did not reach for 100 perfection, I just did the best I could and traded awful food choices for better ones that left me feeling fulfilled. ~ Sara

Seek Help

 If you’re depressed, suffering from severe anxiety or having other emotional problems, you might not be able to stop emotional eating on your own. You might need medication or therapy before you can gain control of your eating. Seek help from a licensed mental health professional. – Livestrong

 Sometimes we just need help, it does not make us week, it means we care enough about our health, dreams, goals, desires, in our life to do what needs to be done to make it happen. There is NO shame in reaching out. As a certified life wellness coach I am not a therapist but I can work and do work with clients  to help change the cycle of emotional eating. I am very big on not covering anything up and starting from the ground up, helping people build a strong foundation on which to stand. If that means baby steps are needed for 3 months well, baby steps are needed for 3 months. My entire hearts passion in my coaching and motivational page is to break the cycle of quick fixes and gimmicks that NEVER fix anything and leave people truly believing they can never reach their goals. I know sometimes we need someone to support us, brainstorm with us, hold us accountable in reaching goals who also challenge us to take on bigger goals in the future, always keeping us moving in the direction of our goals, dreams and desires and this is the coaching I provide and the heart of my work.


To finish, I want to say that this may seem like a lot, you may read this thinking ” food will always control my life ” and what I want you to think is the complete opposite. Do some emotional work, put in the time to get to know yourself, figure out your triggers. Don’t deprive yourself and try not to tell yourself you ” can’t ” we tend to fight that type of thinking tooth and nail. You are a grown, intelligent person and you CAN  have anything you want to eat. Living healthier and more well isn’t a punishment and should not feel like one. Here I am, still on my journey, still working on my goal physic after having our 3rd child but after fighting emotional eating and the terrible feelings that came with that for YEARS, I no longer feel that way. I eat what I want, with my focus on being ( that I want to eat to live, eat to fuel ) I made the decision that I no longer wanted to eat to hide from the world, feel horrible from the inside out and stay on a crazy yo yo gimmick diet for the rest of my life.

I said above that I call the infection of emotional eating  ” hopelessness ” and I am here and work every single day of my life to alleviate that and to provide the hope because I know something, something, special, something amazing and that TRUTH is….If I can … YOU CAN and this is a fact !

Below are pictures of pre  journey and now just a couple of weeks ago  after having our 3rd child working hard and dedicated to living my best life every day !!

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~ Sara Bown




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ღ Sara Bown - Virtual LIFE coach
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