By Jessica Sepel

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that I struggled through years of emotional eating. It’s taken me a long time to become completely open and honest about this time in my life, but I’m determined to speak out and help others who are struggling with the same issues.

In my experience, a range of feelings can trigger emotional eating; whether we’re sad, lonely, happy or excited, we turn to food for comfort. But bingeing is triggered by deprivation, which leads to a vicious cycle.

In order to free ourselves from the cycle, we need to understand the behavioural causes of emotional eating and empower ourselves with the knowledge to free ourselves from it.

Here, I’ve listed six practices that helped me to put an end to emotional eating, once and for all.

1. Give up dieting, restriction and deprivation.

Restricting your food intake puts your body into starvation mode and often leads to bingeing. In my experience, binge eating is a result of rebelling against the feeling of starvation. In order to free ourselves from the vicious cycle, we need to give up diets for good. Instead of depriving your body of food, it’s time to start nourishing yourself and healing your relationship with nutrition. The JSHealth philosophy is all about healthy, balanced and mindful eating. It’s important that we treat our bodies with love and care, and with this comes making healthier choices, particularly at meal times.

2. Give yourself permission to eat with joy. 

Don’t cloud your eating experience with negative thoughts such as, ‘This is a bad food’ or ‘I shouldn’t be eating this.’ Too many people view food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and this creates stress within the body and can increase emotional eating. Instead, become a mindful eater who eats with joy, not guilt. It’s so important to sit down, eat slowly and enjoy the eating experience. Enjoy each mouthful and practise positive affirmations at mealtimes. Before every meal, I say a silent prayer of gratitude such as, “Thank you for the food in front of me. I know it’s going to nourish my body and give it the nutrients it needs.” This has helped me to eat mindfully and has strengthened my relationship with food.

3. Tune into your appetite.

The next time you’re truly hungry, ask yourself: ‘What do I really need?’ and ‘What do I want to eat in this moment?’. Tuning into your body takes practice, but you’ll be surprised at how wise your inner voice really is. Maybe you just need some water, a rest or a walk outside in the fresh air. When you’re feeling hungry, give yourself permission to eat – without guilt – and respect your body when you’re not hungry. Your body will be so grateful.

4. Commit to a wholefood diet that includes plenty of balance.

There’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ so please release yourself from the pressure to eat perfectly. Changing our perception is the first step in adopting a balanced, mindful approach to food. I believe that the most powerful thing we can do to nourish our bodies is to eat real wholefoods. Every day, I choose to eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods such as organic proteins, gluten-free grains, leafy greens, colourful vegetables, low-sugar fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses. It’s important to ensure every meal is satiating, which reduces emotional eating. I also believe in the 80/20 approach. This means that 80 per cent I eat well and 20 per cent of the time, I indulge with joy. Giving yourself permission to indulge once or twice a week reduces the incidence of emotional eating.

5. Take care of your stress levels.

While stress is somewhat inevitable in our modern-day lives, it doesn’t mean we should put our health on the backburner. High amounts of stress affect our adrenal glands, causing them to release higher amounts of cortisol and adrenalin. To combat this, I’ve developed my tried-and-tested stress-relieving practices. These include deep belly breathing, switching off from social media, sleeping early and reducing stress when eating. I also believe it’s important to reduce stress before mealtimes. Before your next meal, put your phone down, turn the TV off and take two big deep breaths before you start eating. I’ve got more tips on stress-free eating here.

6. Show yourself love.

Give yourself love and comfort in ways that aren’t centred around food. Every day, ensure you do one pleasurable thing for yourself; it can be having a bath with lavender oil, watching your favourite feel-good TV show, going for a walk in nature or taking some time to meditate. I encourage you to find time to reward yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. One of the most powerful ways to practise self-love is to accept yourself in this moment – just as you are. Release the need to judge, blame or criticise yourself and know that you are entitled to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.