On a clear Sunday morning, Ellie set out to the mall to indulge in some eating and shopping. She passed several restaurants before halting at a McDonald’s and relishing the aroma of piping hot fries. Despite being on a diet, Ellie decided to eat two burgers, one large fries and a tall glass of coke. After her delicious meal, she headed to a nearby retail outlet to buy a pair of boots. Only she ended up with one pair of boots, one pair of heels, three shirts and one handbag.

Later that day, she checked her credit card statement and was astonished to see that she was drowning in debt. On Monday morning, before hitting the gym, she realized that she had gained a few pounds. Depressed, Ellie headed for the nearest store to buy some cinnamon rolls.

Like most of us, Ellie spent most of her Sunday mindlessly eating and shopping.

Emotional Eating

Unfortunately, a majority of us have often fallen prey to unconscious eating – the act of mindlessly eating a meal. We often check our phone for messages, watch an episode of a popular TV show, see a movie or read the newspaper while eating or drinking. We’re chowing down food mindlessly.

Mindfulness can help with this by helping you notice what you’re eating and drinking. It helps you notice what your putting inside your body as opposed to simply picking at food at the dinner table or munching chips simply because it’s in front of you.

The fact is that we often overeat when we feel some uncomfortable emotion or we’re hungry or tired or stressed. You’re more susceptible to giving in to food cravings when you haven’t slept well, you’re worried about an upcoming deadline or you haven’t eaten well all day.

Moreover, studies have shown that consuming sugars and fats releases opioids in our system which is the same thing that happens when we sniff cocaine and other narcotics. Eating fatty foods and sugar-rich substances produces a pleasing effect.

What’s worse is that most people who want to get healthy go on diets without understanding that diets often fail because they assume that we make decisions about food logically. The truth is that emotions often interfere with our logically-designed “diet” when we want to combat uncomfortable emotions like stress, anger, boredom, loneliness, and sadness.

Mindful eating simply means being mindful or aware of what we’re eating or drinking. Easier said than done, right? But with patience, kindness to yourself and practice, you can change the way you eat and your relationship with food. Here’s how:

• Eat slowly and taste your food and drink. Don’t just sip or bite without being aware of what you’re biting into or sipping.

• Start getting comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. Approach yourself with kindness and allow yourself to feel the full gamut of unfavorable emotions – anger, sadness, tiredness, boredom, guilt – without judgment. Get comfortable with yourself, accept yourself and your feelings. Know that it’s okay to feel mad, sad, angry, hurt or annoyed. It’s not okay to avoid these feelings by overeating.

• Are you tired, hungry or stressed? You’re more susceptible to giving in to food cravings when you haven’t slept well, you’re worried about an upcoming deadline or you haven’t eaten well all day. The solution to this is simple, really: Get 8 hours of sleep, eat small meals evenly spaced throughout the day and combat stress with exercise and meditation.

• Don’t let your stomach growl. Eat when you are mildly hungry as opposed to hangry (hungry and angry).

• Avoid doing anything other than eating while eating. Put your phone on silent, watch that episode later and read your book at another time.

Emotional Shopping

Just like emotional eating, emotional shopping gives a temporary feel-good high that aims to combat uncomfortable emotions. Which is why most people desire to shop after a particularly hectic week at work. Mindfulness allows us to notice our actions such as making a purchase rather than mindlessly indulging in a compulsive behavior while we’re operating on auto-pilot. It brings a pause between the decision to act and actually act.

You can curb emotional shopping by:

• Taking a few deep breaths before heading to the checkout counter and asking yourself how you feel. Are you buying this cashmere sweater because you’re sad and want to feel better – even if it’s just for some time? Recognizing how you feel is the first step towards achieving mindfulness.

• Are you stressed? Bored? Instead of swiping your credit card, try watching a hilarious cat video or exercising.

• Earn your purchases by planning it. Try to find features you’re looking for in say, a new pair of heels, and don’t settle for just any pair of heels. Select the one that fits all the criteria you’re looking for in a perfect pair of heels as opposed to mindlessly reaching for the first (or second or third) one you see in a store.

• Try to use physical cash instead of a card to buy something because then you will feel the pain of parting with your funds. According to research, people are more willing to pay for an item if it just involves swiping a card rather than using actual money.
Differentiate between a want and a need: Do you really need that new pair of boots? Or do you just want it?

Our actions are dominated by emotions. Through mindfulness, we can recognize our emotions, pause, consider our decisions and then act on them.

Are you struggling with your unfavorable emotions and mindlessly eating and shopping without a second thought? If you need help, feel free to contact Orly Gueron a Licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship specialist in Aventura, FL!