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Getting Comfortable with The Uncomfortable: The Emotional Eating Challenge

Getting Comfortable with The Uncomfortable: The Emotional Eating Challenge

It’s a reader struggle special today here on Strong Inside Out!

I send out an email to everyone who subscribes to the Strong Inside Out email list that asks A) what brought them to the site (welcome, Nerd Fitness Academy peeps!), and B) what they are personally struggling with at the moment.

The big issue that’s affecting MOST of us here seems to be this: many of you eat when you’re stressed, depressed, tired, angry or even happy, and you’re having a hard time nixing this addiction to food when emotions come into play. Let me just be the first to say that it’s extremely hard to break the cycle when all the chemicals in your brain are pushing you toward the cookie jar.

Well, my friends, you are not in the least bit alone on this one. I still have that urge when I get stressed out and honestly, I still succumb to it every now and again.

Take being on tour as an example: I ran the Suck It, Temptation! Challenge because I was personally struggling to get out of the stress-eating habit. And it was tough! Being a fitness trainer doesn’t make you magically immune from this addiction to numb with food.

If you’re new to the site, you may have missed some of my posts that cover this subject. Here’s a reading list of posts I’ve written about emotional eating:

Wondering why can’t you just work out hard and see the results you want? It might help to shed some light onto the very first training session I have with new clients.

When I start a new client, I always give them the nutrition talk. It goes something like this:

“80% of your results is going to be due to your nutrition. If you don’t focus just as much on healthy eating as you do on exercise, you won’t get the results you’re asking me for.”

I usually get the surprised wide eyes that scream, “But I came to you for fitness! I thought I could just work it all off!”

Unfortunately that’s not the case for 90% of us. Unless you were blessed with the very rare genetics that enable a crazy fast metabolism (which isn’t always a good thing), you will have to work on your diet and fitness simultaneously if you want to achieve lasting results.

When emotions come into play, however, it’s a lot harder to simply put away the cake in favor of a walk around the block… especially if it’s after a hard day at work or a fight with your spouse. All you want is that immediate boost from the sugar, or to numb these horrible feelings you’re having.

And that’s the rub. Before we tackle exactly why, let’s get onto why you have such trouble with letting this particular habit go.

Why it’s so hard to stop

When you’re experiencing discomfort in whatever form it comes, it’s… well… uncomfortable. Sitting with those emotions is really tough to do. So instead of dealing, we reach for something to make us feel happier immediately.

Cue Ben & Jerry’s.

When Cherry Garcia hits our taste buds and the chemicals get released from our brain that make us feel all warm & fuzzy & comfortable (it’s called “comfort food” for a reason!), it’s much like a heroin addict shooting up.

Dopamine and opioids cascade like shimmering rainbows and glitter across your brain cells, making you feel all rewarded and blissful. Later, it leaves you crashing, wanting more so you can get your high again.

There’s a problem when one can’t determine the difference between the descriptions of sugar and heroin and their effects on the brain.

They both lead to addiction. But the food addiction makes sense; we need it to survive. Our genes just haven’t caught up with modern times yet. Our brain chemistry hasn’t gotten the memo that the Western world isn’t going hungry anytime soon. We don’t need excessive amounts of sugar like we might have prayed for way back when food was scarce.

Now, food addiction can lead us to dangerous ends. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more are more prevalent than ever before and are direct consequences of overeating. Just like other addictions, this one demands more and more of the drug to feel the same high.

Did you know that over-sugaring can lead to a higher “sugar tolerance?” It’s true: sugar naturally releases dopamine in the brain, which starts to change the dopamine receptors in your brain if you overdo it for too long, causing your brain to need higher doses of the sweet stuff for the same effect that a smaller dose would have produced a couple years ago. You just want more and more of it to quell that anxiety… like addicts do.

Trying to break the habit of reaching for that pint when you feel low may be just as tough as breaking a drug addiction. Especially because it’s a LOT easier to get a box of donuts than it is a bag of H.

Ready for some good news?

You can conquer the odds [click to tweet]. Moderation of sugar is possible (unlike hard drugs), and it’s all about facing the real reasons why changing your eating habits scares you.

The real reason why changing your eating habits scares you

You picking up a pizza when you’re stressed at work is a coping mechanism.

Instead of dealing with the stress you face, you’re avoiding your emotions. You’re looking for a way out, and that pepperoni pie looks like a perfect escape route.

But is it really?

Consider what it does to you in the long term. Consider how it makes you feel later. Stuffing your problems down with an immediate, short-term solution isn’t the solution. It’s a band-aid on a gushing wound.

Emotional eating is replacing a problem with another problem. A temporary fix, eating is going to make you feel a whole host of other negative emotions in an hour or two, which starts the cycle of discomfort-eat-discomfort all over again.

Every time you’ve reached for food in times of discomfort, you’ve reinforced this habit. You’ve taught your mind that you don’t need to struggle.

But maybe you do.

Maybe the struggle is exactly what you need to become who you were meant to be. [click to tweet]

I AM NOT condoning dwelling in a dark place, self-harming or starving yourself. Pleeeeease don’t take it like that. I’m just saying that you need to start focusing on what’s important to you. What makes you feel like the healthiest, most energized, and happy you possible?

I bet it ain’t the cookie diet. Just sayin’.

In order to overcome this addiction to emotional eating, you must commit to dealing with the uncomfortable. You must accept that it will not be sunshine and rainbows, and expect the sucky parts of it.

Allow the struggle to run its course and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Ready to move forward stronger? Consider this your sugar rehab…

The Emotional Eating Challenge

If you’re struggling to break the cycle, there’s nothing quite like going cold turkey. It worked for me, and I bet it will work for you, too. Here’s what you do…


  1. You keep a food journal detailing what you’re eating and why.

  2. You eat when you’re hungry.

  3. You don’t when you’re not.

Looks simple, right? It’s quite a bit harder done than said, unfortunately.

If you are completely honest with yourself when filling out your food journal, you will be forcing yourself to deal with the emotions that you’ve been stuffing down with food previously.

And it sucks. It is a struggle. And it’s good for you.

When it gets hard (and it will), do the exercise from Inquire Within.

By taking this challenge:

  • You’ll learn the difference between real hunger cues and boredom or emotional cues.
  • You’ll become more present with your emotions as they arise.
  • You will become more aware of your triggers.
  • You will tackle what may be the one obstacle holding you back from weight loss success.

You are strong enough to accomplish all of the above and more. The only way you’re going to get unstuck is to move forward on your own cue. [click to tweet]

Let this be it. This is your moment where everything you could never change before, suddenly changes. YOU make that happen.

Are you up for the challenge? All you need to say is “I’m in.” And the only person you’re staying accountable to is you.

No public declarations today. This is a personal journey that needs only be known by you.

6-Week Emotional Eating Challenge Food JournalI usually give away a goodie to those who join the challenges here on SIO, so I’ve drafted up a 6-Week Emotional Eating Challenge Food Journal that gets into more detail about why you’re eating and what coping mechanisms you may be able to use instead. You don’t have to sign up for this one. It’s totally free for you, just for committing to yourself and the challenge.

Just click here to view the document on Google Drive (please take note of the disclaimer on the title page), then click “File,” then “Make a Copy” to add it to your Google Drive for editing. You can also just print it out and fill it out the old fashioned way. :)

Make the commitment to yourself now. Declare with sincerity and conviction that you will be in this challenge just as if it were a public one. The accountability to yourself is what will pull you through always.

The challenge starts today and goes all the way up until the 21st of November. That’s just one week before Thanksgiving. Perfect timing? Methinks so. :)

Happy challenging, friends!

Stay strong,


pic by Jeff Kubina

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6 responses to “Getting Comfortable with The Uncomfortable: The Emotional Eating Challenge”

  1. Simone says:

    I definitely do this (listen to cravings > hunger, eat emotionally, etc), but I’m also starting to realize that I don’t eat ENOUGH. I want to gain more lean body mass and I’d like to see the numbers go UP on the scale! But I’m more of a “grazer” and aside from the occasional “Birthday cake? I’ll take two slices!” days, I often don’t finish meals or eat enough to properly fuel my workouts. Any tips on increasing food intake? :)

    • Amy says:

      Hi Simone!

      All that parkour has you burning like a furnace, dude! ;)

      If you want to gain lean mass, I suggest taking a look at your post-workout nutrition. Do you eat something with a good amount of carbs and protein immediately after a workout, or even starting during? Protein shakes (and I’m not that big a fan of them, honestly, but for weight gain, they’re so helpful) are great if you are on a budget or if you just don’t have time to sit down at every meal.

  2. Paula says:

    I am in as this post is speaking directly to me. I might have signed up late, but I am going to do it.

    • Amy says:

      It’s never too late, Paula. :)

      • Meg says:

        Hi Amy,

        I try to keep up with all of your blogs, but these past two months have gone by in a blur! I have been in and out of the hospital, and have just now read most of the posts I missed while away. This post hits me the hardest, as for years I have struggled with compulsive eating. At the present I am at my highest weight ever, and just signed up for dance and yoga classes, and a gym membership, and I am very nervous, but finally ready to make a change. I really wanted to print out the emotional eating journal because I believe strongly in journaling, but for some reason it wouldn’t print out (nothing showed up on the page), and when I tried copy and pasting it to Word, it said something crazy about Toggling. I am terrible with computers so I was wondering if there was another way to go about getting it? I am very happy for you for getting to have an adventure in Bali!! One day I hope to see it myself- it sounds like paradise!

        • Amy says:

          Hi Meg! Don’t know why that link’s not working for you. Send me your information through the contact form and I’ll send it directly to you! :)

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