The fridge door is open and you’re peering inside, feeling bored, lonely or sad. But you’re not actually hungry.
You know that eating what’s in front of you isn’t the answer. You know you’re just going to feel awful, if you do. But what are some things you can think, say or do to stop eating when you’re not hungry?
- Find your real hunger. If you’re not physically hungry, but you’re still feeling drawn to that leftover cheesecake on the top shelf of your fridge, it may mean that you’re hungry for something else. You might be hungry for a hug, reassurance, or love. You might be hungry for a relationship, friendship, or praise. Make a list of what you’re hungry for at this moment. Recognize that you’re hungry for something that food can’t give you.
- Talk to the food. This may seem silly, but try speaking to the food that you’re craving. Ask that slice of cheesecake: “Will you hug me? Will you reassure me? Will you love me? Will you be my friend?”The answer, of course, is no. The best that the cheesecake can offer is a moment of temporary gratification, followed by remorse. You deserve better and you can offer yourself much more than that.
- Remind yourself what happens next. This isn’t the first time you’ve felt the urge to eat to satisfy emotional hunger, and it might not be the last.If that slice of cheesecake is still beckoning you, remind yourself of how awful you’ll feel after you indulge. You could tell yourself: “If I do this, afterwards I will probably feel disappointed. Bloated. Uncomfortable.”
Remind yourself: “Eating that cheesecake might feel good in the moment, but that good feeling won’t last. The consequences are not worth it.”
- Feed your real hunger. This one is a must. If you’re looking to food for emotional nourishment, such as comfort when you’re sad, reassurance when you’re scared, and love when you’re lonely, stop right there. Food can’t take away your sadness or your fear, or make loneliness go away. You might feel some relief while you’re eating, but afterward, when you’re no longer savoring that dense, creamy cheesecake, you will be right back where you started — aware of your sadness, fear, and your hunger for company and love. Remember the list you made earlier of what you’re hungry for. You can satisfy those hungers for yourself in a way that food absolutely cannot.If you’re sad and want a hug, let yourself cry, so that you can feel some relief. If you’re scared and want reassurance, accept how you feel (“It’s all right to be scared”). Then reassure yourself that there is nothing you cannot handle. If you’re lonely and want friendship, remember that you can be alone physically but that doesn’t mean you need to be lonely. Enjoy your own company. Be your own best friend. Feed your hungry emotional heart with self-love, not empty calories.
- Buy some time. You may not always be able to address what you’re feeling at the moment. Sometimes, you may have to buy yourself some time and put your feelings aside until you can properly take care of them later. This isn’t the same as suppressing your feelings, or pretending they don’t exist. You’re going to take care of your feelings, just not right at this moment.You could say to yourself:
“I really want to eat right now, but I know my hunger is emotional (I just ate a big lunch!). I don’t have time, right this moment, to give my full attention to my hungry feelings (because I’m at work, or driving my kids to school, or attending a friend’s graduation). I will tend to those feelings as soon as I can. But for now? I’m just going to breathe and accept how I feel, and let my feelings move through me.”
And then? Breathe, breathe, breathe. If you take big, cleansing breaths, even just for one minute, you might be surprised to find that the desire to eat passes for a little while.
Not enough? Then distract yourself. Drink a glass of water. Engage in a conversation with a colleague. Catch up on your emails. Do whatever it takes to buy a little more time, until the urge to eat settles.
Above all, believe in yourself. Believe in your inner strength. Believe in your ability to handle anything in your life, without turning to food. As you’re looking inside the fridge, tell that food: “I am stronger than you.” Because you know what? It’s true.