How to Overcome Emotional Eating with AIP

Transitioning to AIP can be a very challenging task but have you ever stopped to think about why it’s challenging? Eating this new way involves many different changes- the obvious changes being physical. We begin eating foods we are not used to and eliminating many of our familiar foods. We also change our routine by incorporating meal planning, prepping, and batch cooking. If we were computers, these physical changes would be simple. We would simply stop doing the old routine and start the new one. But, we are not computers, we are humans. And humans have thoughts and emotions involved with everything we do, especially with eating!

Many people (myself included) have reported feeling deprived while on the AIP diet.

The reason behind this is simple. Feeling deprived is an emotion. The feeling of deprivation shows itself when we stop using an external source to deal with our emotions. Other examples of external sources include watching tv or scrolling on social media. Feeling deprived when we stop these activities comes from the thought, “I want this but I can’t have it.”

Understanding why we have this thought when we stop eating inflammatory foods is a great way to ensure success on AIP.

So, the question is why did we develop a desire for wanting food without a physical cause? Why do we desire drinking wine after a stressful day? Why do we crave our go-to comfort foods at work? Why do we snack more when we are lonely?

Here is what happens: we first have an emotion that makes us feel uncomfortable. (Most of the time we don’t realize what is happening because our brain is so good at automatically handling repetitive thoughts and feelings.) This could be anxiety, sadness, deprivation, or even boredom. Our brain has two options: experience the uncomfortable emotion internally or resist it. When our brain chooses resistance, it creates a desire for us to participate in an external source. Eating comfort foods, scrolling social media, or watching tv provides dopamine — the “feel good” hormone. This allows us to feel happy or comforted as we avoid feeling the uncomfortable emotion in the moment. The uncomfortable emotion is then “saved” for later and typically shows up often as our brains continue to resist it. This is what we call emotional eating.

Your brain is like a toddler with scissors. It truly means well but it can’t be trusted. The key to not relying on food for emotional management is simply learning how to manage your emotions internally without resistance. It will be a change for your brain. It will be challenging. But, the concept is simple and the reward will be massive. Imagine eating AIP and NOT feeling deprived? What symptoms could be improved by consistently eating AIP?

Now that we understand why we eat emotionally, I’m going to break down exactly what you need to do to overcome your emotional eating in five steps.

The first step to overcoming emotional eating is the most important one: awareness.

This is awareness of what you are thinking and feeling. Remember, your brain is very good at repeating thoughts and feelings and then quickly creating desire for external sources so you don’t have to be aware of what you are feeling. It’s time for you to check in and see what is really happening in your brain.

Start by stopping what you are doing during the day and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Look for a very specific emotion. If you are stuck, google “list of feelings for adults.” (My personal favorite is from Hoffman Institute.) If your answer is “stressed,” ask yourself what emotions are causing me to feel “stressed?” We want to get to the root emotion happening in your brain.

Next, ask yourself “What thought am I thinking that is causing this emotion?” Every emotion comes from a thought you think in your brain, not an outside source. This is why people have different emotions about the same circumstance. For example, let’s say you are at a football game and the red team scores a touchdown. All the red team fans will be excited and cheer and the blue team fans will be disappointed. It’s because they have different thoughts about the touchdown.

Having awareness of what you are thinking and feeling allows you to truly understand yourself and your brain. This allows you to use your brain to make changes and create results, instead of being held back by your brain.

Notice the next time you overeat or indulge in a craving. What happened that day? What were you feeling? What thoughts do you think caused you to feel that way? We will talk more about awareness in the following steps.

The second step is to give yourself permission to feel the way you do.

This is what your brains need when you feel uncomfortable. For example, let’s say your boss corrects a mistake you made in front of your team. You instantly feel shame and embarrassment. This is when you tell yourself, “Of course I feel shame and embarrassment. I am believing that I am not good at my job. I am thinking that everyone is disappointed in me.” I find it is easier to give permission when we start with saying, “Of course I feel this way…”

You are acknowledging that your thoughts are causing your feelings. You are giving yourself permission to feel this way at that moment. Later, you may disagree with those thoughts and believe that you are great at your job and that your team appreciates your hard work. Your emotions will reflect that.

We often seek permission to feel a certain way from other people. Once again, this is relying on external sources for our emotional needs. In this example, this could look like stopping at your friend’s desk after the meeting and telling her what your boss said. Your friend might say something like, “I would feel so embarrassed if that happened to me too!” Then your brain feels better. It just received permission to feel embarrassed. But, the good news is that you don’t need anyone else to give you permission. You have the ability to do that for yourself.

Receiving permission to feel your emotions is powerful. It allows you to have compassion for yourself without judgment. It enables you to be curious and fascinated with yourself and your brain. Your brain will always decrease it’s resistance when it feels understood. (Remember, your brain is a toddler.)

The third step is to experience your emotions.

This can be challenging. It’s what your brain works so hard to avoid doing. But you will learn that it is not so bad, and you get to teach your brain this. To learn how to do this, think of a specific emotion that makes you feel uncomfortable. This could be anxiety, anger, overwhelm…whatever you experience frequently. Now, I want you to close your eyes and notice what you physically feel in your body when you experience that emotion. Notice the physical sensation you feel and the location. For example, “When I feel anxiety, I feel tightness in my gut.” That is experiencing an emotion.

The physical sensations you experience when you have an emotion are the full extent of that emotion.

Your brain thinks the emotion is a lot more dangerous than it really is. It will try to distract you so you don’t have to experience a harmless sensation like tightness in your gut. That is what you are actually running away from. The physiological lifespan of an emotion (without resistance) is 90 seconds. Are you willing to experience 90 seconds of any emotion?

If you are willing to experience any emotion, you can create any result, including being compliant eating AIP.

The fourth step to overcoming emotional eatingis to notice resistance.

Let me tell you, you will feel resistance with uncomfortable emotions when you start doing this work. This is not a problem. This is the necessary step to learning what is happening in your brain. I want you to celebrate your awareness of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and then any resistance you feel. If you become aware that you binge eat potato chips while stressed; and you realize this while you are elbow deep in a bag of chips, I still want you to celebrate. I can’t stress this enough. We need your brain to feel rewarded for “going there” and becoming aware.

Resistance shows up when you try to avoid emotion. This could include eating past full, eating unhealthy comfort foods, watching tv, or deep cleaning the house. It’s any activity you take to distract yourself from feeling your emotions and the sensations that accompany them. Even productive activities are forms of resistance if they are used for that purpose. The less resistance you have, the stronger you will be emotionally.

Initially, you may lie to yourself about what you feel or run away without realizing it. Over time, you will start feeling your emotions when it’s convenient for you. With more practice, you will then experience your emotions without resistance or judgement. This creates a peaceful, loving relationship with yourself.

The fifth step is to eat according to hunger sensations, not emotions.

AIP is a great diet that teaches you how to listen to your body. Let’s put that into practice when determining when you are hungry and when you are full. This is important for everyone to implement but it’s especially helpful for those who desire to lose weight.

Implementing the above steps will show you how often your brain creates desire for food for emotional, instead of physical reasons. When you listen to your body, you will learn to distinguish the emotional sensations from the physical sensations. You will know the difference between the anxiety induced tightness in your gut versus hunger sensations. Common hunger sensations include an empty stomach, stomach growling, headache, light-headed feeling, grumpiness, lack of energy, or weakness. Notice that these hunger sensations can overlap with emotional sensations. Your emotional and hunger sensations are unique to you. To become familiar with your hunger sensations, I want you to label your range of hunger on a scale from “starving” to “neutral” to “fullest.”

Describe in detail the physical sensations you experience along the entire scale. This will help you listen to your body in addition to your brain. Pick the stage for when you want to eat and the stage for when you want to stop eating. This will help you realize how hungry and how full you are and help you eat according to your hunger sensations.

If you have an urge to eat a non-compliant food, I want you to question why. If you rule out physical reasons, I want you to explore the emotional reasons. Determine what you are thinking and feeling. Give yourself permission to think that thought and feel that emotion. Experience the emotion. Notice any resistance that may be present. Then, eat according to your hunger sensations. This is how we are designed to feel and eat.

These five steps provide a solution for you to feel your emotions and eat food, separately.

Eating food should be enjoyable, no matter what stage of AIP you are in. It’s a way to nourish and satisfy your body, take care of your health, and experience different tastes and flavors.

Feeling your emotions allows you to learn who you really are. It allows you to discover the thoughts that your brain is operating from. It provides you with an opportunity to understand and manage your greatest asset, your brain.

Taking care of your emotional and physical health is one of the greatest forms of self love. Experiencing your emotions correctly enables you to be successful eating AIP so you can show this love to yourself.

About Laura Clowdus

Laura Clowdus, RN-C, BSN is an AIP and Certified Wellness Life Coach dedicated to helping autoimmune women prioritize their health. Using her knowledge of autoimmune disease and the brain, Laura teaches her clients how to decrease their stress and take care of themselves from a place of love so they can have their own back for the rest of their lives. Her mission is to empower autoimmune women to understand themselves and meet their needs with minimal effort, always having fun along the way. Laura lives with her husband Jeff, and two boys, Vance and Ruston on Lookout Mountain, outside of Chattanooga, TN. You can connect with her at lauraclowdus.com and follow her on Instagram and Tiktok.

3 comments

  • Sumit Singh says

    Emotional eating is a huge problem nowadays. Our lifestyle has changed and there are many issues with our health. Many people try to avoid emotional eating but very few succeed. I am sure your article will be useful because the tips are simple to implement. Thank you very much.

  • Cindy says

    What about wanting a bowl of chocolate ice cream instead of a bowl of broccoli…. just. because. it. tastes. better.?

  • E. says

    The thing is when I don’t feel well, food becomes my “thing” — something to plan and look forward to. This is why it’s so hard. The good news is that ones you establish a clear food-symptom connection, you are much more motivated to stick to your diet.

Leave a Comment