I admit it. I can be an emotional eater. Emotions are often linked to food for me. If I’m happy, I like to celebrate with a nice dinner; and, perhaps, a glass of bubbly. If I’m stressed, I might feel the urge to snack. If I’m sad or worried, I am tempted to turn to the nearest comfort food. Small doses of comfort eating or celebrating with food can be okay. Don’t stress about it 🙂
When it becomes a binge or a habit, it can leave you feeling guilty, angry at yourself, out of control or depressed. Even though you have filled your belly, you are still left with an emotional void. In order to truly deal with the emotions that are driving you to eat, you need to figure out how to address the underlying feelings.
Here are some tips for managing emotional eating:
1. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings you have before you eat.
Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
Has it been at least a few hours since your last meal or snack? Is it your usual meal or snack time? Are you low on energy? Is your stomach growling?
- You are physically hungry!
- Try to resist the urge to grab the first thing in sight and practice mindful eating.
- Take the time to choose a healthy snack or meal and sit down to enjoy it.
- Pay attention to your food choices and the amount of food you are eating.
- Stop eating when you are no longer hungry – before you feel “full.”
- Plan your meals and snacks in advance to help you to stick with your healthier choices when hunger hits.
- Go to tip #3.
- Do you feel a sudden craving for a certain type of food?
- Is it all you can think about?
- Something besides hunger is probably driving your desire to eat.
- Go to tip #2.
2. Identify your eating triggers.
If you are not really hungry, tell yourself “I’ll have it later” and set a timer for 10 minutes. Take that time to think about what feelings might be driving your cravings and find a way to address them.
Are you stressed?
There may be a physiological explanation for your powerful cravings. In times of stress, your body releases a hormone – cortisol – that can cause you to crave high sugar and high fat foods. Think of an activity that will take your mind off of food and reduce your stress. Perhaps a walk outside, a quick jog or some yoga stretches will provide a good release. A meditation or breathing exercise can also help reduce cortisol levels. Turning on some good music and dancing around can also help take your mind off of your cravings.
Are you bored?
Maybe you are just looking for a way to fill your time. Find something to do away from the kitchen. Take a walk or run an errand. Make a “to-do” list and start with an easy item to check off and feel the satisfaction of getting something done.
Are you sad or lonely?
Perhaps you are trying to fill an emotional void that you are feeling. Call a friend or loved one. Treat yourself to a manicure, a bubble bath or a scenic walk with some good music. Find a funny book or movie to cheer you up.
Are you happy?
Do you feel like celebrating or rewarding yourself? Celebrate with a social event that doesn’t revolve around food. Invite your friends for a fun hike, group exercise class or pedicure party. Treat yourself with a non-food reward. Instead of cake and ice cream, get yourself a beautiful bouquet, that book you’ve been wanting to read or even a new pair of shoes.
3. Keep yourself accountable and plan ahead.
Keep a journal and identify your emotional eating triggers as they come up. Experiment with the strategies I have suggested (see #2, above) and brainstorm your own ideas. If you know you will have a tempting situation come up – a celebration, a stressful event, a sleepless night – write down a plan in advance. Use a food and feelings journal to keep you accountable whenever you feel like you need to get back on track or take a look at your habits. Set yourself up for success by making healthy choices at the grocery store and keeping tempting foods out of the house.
4. Don’t deprive yourself.
Healthy eating isn’t about depriving yourself. It can be okay to satisfy your craving and enjoy the food you want. The key is to stay in control of your eating and your cravings and not let the cravings control you. Sometimes a small portion or taste of the food that you want is enough to feel satisfied. Just be sure that you are also addressing any underlying feelings that may be triggering your desire to eat. Food can nourish your body and satisfy your hunger, but it cannot satisfy your emotional needs… at least not for the long term.
5. Get back on track.
Don’t let a slip up turn into a landslide. If you have an episode of over-indulging or emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh with the next meal. Everybody has a slip up now and then. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan to get back on track.
For more helpful information, check out this great article: “Emotional Eating vs. Mindful Eating”
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237 or find support on their website: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org