Emotional eating is “eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.” (mayoclinic.org) But does food actually have the ability to permanently suppress or soothe those negative emotions? The answer is no. If you’re an emotional eater, the gratification or comfort you receive from food while stress eating is only temporary; this leads you to either continue to eat more or leaves you feeling guilty afterwards, which can lead to an ugly cycle. This emotion-food cycle can have negative consequences on your health and wellness journey.
Can the cycle be broken? Yes! As with any behavior, you have to first identify the belief driving the behavior and then put steps in place to change the belief. I recommend beginning with the belief that food is FUEL. Understanding and believing the “why” we need to eat is a good starting point. We eat because we need the energy (fuel) from food to properly function.
Next, you also need to understand and believe the “what” you need to eat. Your body needs nutrient dense foods from all the food categories; these include whole grains, lean meats, vegetables, fruist, and dairy products.
Other tips to help control and stop emotional eating include the following:
- Keeping a food diary. By tracking what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you felt while eating, and whether or not you were hungry can reveal eating patterns that can connect your moods to your foods.
- Discover new ways to manage your emotions. For stress, try exercise, meditation, deep breathing techniques, or yoga. For boredom, find a new hobby, read a book, write a letter, or journal. Whatever the emotion that drives you to eat, there are other options other than reaching for a snack: take a walk, call a friend, listen to music, or play with a pet.
- Are you hungry? If the answer is no, then don’t eat! Sometimes too, dehydration can be confused with hunger. So, before you reach for a snack, drink a glass of water.
- Don’t buy foods that tempt you! If you are the one in control of the food in your kitchen, then just don’t buy foods that tempt you. I’m not advocating for food restriction; just choose different (possibly healthier) food options to have on hand. Snack wisely. Have a plan for your meals and snacks for the day.
- Learn from your setbacks. We all experience setbacks on our health and wellness journey. The key to success is to learn from them and just pick up and move forward when they happen. Don’t expect perfection from yourself. Give yourself grace and forgiveness when needed. Have a plan in place to try and prevent future setbacks if the same obstacle arises again in the future.
- Seek professional help when needed. If you’ve tried self-help options and still can’t control your emotional eating, it may be time to seek professional help from a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help you understand why you eat emotionally and could also identify if you have an eating disorder. (mayoclinic.org)
During times of uncertainty, it’s important to maintain a schedule in your life. If you’re spending more time at home and find it easy to graze on foods all day, set “open” and “close” times for your kitchen. Find an accountability partner to help keep you focused on your health and wellness goals. If you’re going to eat simple carbs, try to combine them with a protein. Above all else, work to not let your emotions get the best of you and control your food intake. Stay on the journey. Take control of your health and wellness using the above tips to stop emotional eating. Stay well – Jennifer