Do you find yourself racing to the kitchen or convenience store whenever you’re feeling stressed or down?
If this resonates with you, know you are not alone.
Emotional eating is a far common coping mechanism than you might think. It’s also not a death sentence.
In today’s post, you’ll learn a few practical ways to manage your emotional eating episodes so that you stop reaching for unhealthy food when you feel stressed, angry, depressed, or sad.
But first things first, what is emotional eating? And what’s the relationship between food choices and emotional states?
Let’s first unpack these before we get to the practical stuff.
Emotional eating refers to eating in the absence of physical hunger as a way to soothe unpleasant feelings and/or create a pleasant mood. It’s eating to satisfy your emotions instead of your body. And when you do so, you’re likely reaching for high-fat, high-calorie, and sugary items.
You might devour a whole pint of ice cream because you feel rejected after a lousy date, order pizza if you’re feeling down, or snack at workout because you’re overworked.
Although often referred to as stress eating, stress isn’t the only culprit behind this insidious habit. Sadness, loneliness, depression, even positive emotions such as happiness, can create that urge to reach for food in the absence of hunger.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, emotional eating isn’t the solution to your emotional prayers. It’s instead just a Band-Aid on a deeper wound.
Using food to satisfy your emotions often leaves you feeling emotionally hollow, and every time you try to eat your feelings away, you underscore the message to yourself that you’re worthless and unable to regulate your behavior.
Are You an Emotional Eater?
So how do you know if you’re an emotional eater?
The following covers some of the most common symptoms that may indicate that you eat because of emotional strife.
- Eating without realizing that you’re even doing it
- Feeling ashamed or guilty after eating
- Eating because there’s nothing else to do
- Rewarding yourself with food
- Eating larger portions than usual
- Feeling a loss of control around food
- Regularly eating until you’ve stuffed yourself
- Craving specific foods when you’re feeling down
- Feeling the urge to reach for food as a reaction to outside cues
If a few of these describe your relationship with food, then it’s possible that mouth pleasure has turned into a coping mechanism rather than a way to provide energy for your body.
How to Deal With Emotional Eating
If you react to emotional stressors by reaching for food to soothe your feelings, you’d want to stop to overcome this destructive habit.
Here are some steps you can take right now to stop your emotional eating for good.
Identify your Triggers
Understanding your triggers will help get one step ahead of the condition so you can either avoid those situations or make sure you have a plan. Awareness creates its own momentum, as the saying goes.
Think carefully about a time when you were prone to emotional eating. Maybe it’s the night when you felt unloved after a bad date or simply feeling stressed after a taxing day at work.
Begin from a place of compassion, then ask yourself what’s causing you to try to satisfy the emotional void with food. It doesn’t matter what your triggers are. There is no right or wrong answer.
So what’s causing you to overeat?
Is it boredom? Stress? Anxiety? Feeling overwhelmed? Or just loneliness?
You might discover that your triggers change from day to day and setting to setting, but they are there.
Once you have singled out these triggers, you’ll have more control and be better able to curb your emotional eating.
Start a food journal in which you monitor the emotions that trigger you to overeat.
More specifically, keep track of your food intake alongside your emotional states. Write down what you ate, how much and how you felt as ate- angry, sad, stressed, happy, you name it—and whether you were truly hungry or just eating to soothe your feelings.
By doing this regularly, you’ll begin to see patterns emerging between your food choices and your emotions. This can help you shed more light on what triggers you to reach for the junk food.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to put this information to make better choices – like choosing to go for a run instead of inhaling a whole pint of ice cream.
Determine A Better Response
When you’re trying to break a habit, it’s helpful—and natural—to substitute that habit with another one. Nature, after all, abhors a vacuum.
For this reason, set up a healthy system in place to avoid falling into these emotion eating traps.
Here’s the two-step formula for setting up the plan.
Fill in the blanks: “When (emotional setting), I will (healthier alternative).
The emotional setting stands for your triggers. Examples include:
- Feeling stressed
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling down
- Feeling drained
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling rejected
The second part stands for the healthier activity you’ll engage in. Good examples include:
- Call a friend
- Take a nap
- Go for a walk
- Going for a run
- Playing a video game
- Reading a fiction book
- Having coffee out
- Anything constructive that soothes the feeling but without reaching for food.
Do you get stressed out at work? Ask a friend to join you for a power walk during your lunch break to give your brain a break and promote healthy activity.
If your love life is the source of stress, communicate with your partner, and ask them for help in dealing with your issues.
If anxiety is a trigger, consider attending a yoga class or going for a run instead of reaching for food.
There you have it. The guidelines above cover some of the best measures you can take right now to overcome emotional eating and build a healthier relationship with food. Now the ball is in your court. Success will be determined by how quick you implment the lifestyle changes into your daily routine. The rest is just detail.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.