Ways to Stop Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is more than downing a pint of ice cream on a bad day. Do you know what your triggers are?
We joke a lot as a society about eating our feelings, but emotional eating is much more complicated than the heroine in a romantic comedy downing a pint of ice cream. Being able to understand exactly why we’re eating is critical to long-term health.
Eating is critical to living, and it also brings a lot of joy to life. Avoiding emotional eating isn’t about taking the joy out of eating, it’s about learning to mindfully make decisions that will help you be healthy and happy. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when making those decisions:
It’s not just in your head
One of the reasons it’s challenging to control emotional eating is because chemicals in certain foods can lift your spirits. Health journalist Alice Walton says carbohydrates can boost your serotonin levels—the same thing many antidepressants do. Similarly, fatty-acids make people feel less sad. So, it’s not just in your head that food makes you feel better, it’s literally a physical reaction.
Eating started out as a comfort for every single one of us, since birth. “There's something in the act of eating itself that is inherently calming: Feeding holds a lot of power as a tool for comfort and nurture, which likely goes back to the mother-infant connection,” Walton wrote in The Atlantic.
Identify your motivation
So, step back and evaluate. Our body doesn’t always register stress as stress, but rather hunger. Our body tends to signal hunger when we’re bored, unhappy, or in social situations where others are eating.
Ask yourself why you want to eat. Are you eating to satisfy stress? Unhappiness? Boredom? Celebration? Or actual hunger? If you’re sitting on the couch craving brownies and ice cream—and nothing else will do—chances are it’s not because you’re hungry. Specific cravings usually mean your desire for food is emotional, whereas having interest in a lot of different foods more likely means you’re physically hungry.
Practice mindful eating
Set your phone down, turn off the TV, and focus on your eating. You’re less likely to eat if you pay attention to your food while you eat. Slow down. Think about the taste of each bite. This will give your stomach and brain the time to process that you are eating and communicate when you’re full. And when the full signal comes, listen to it. It’s all too easy to overeat when you’re stressed.
Find a healthier distraction
Once you’ve identified that you’re most likely eating because of your emotions rather than real hunger, cope with your emotions in a healthier way like going for a walk, writing down your feelings, or sending a thank you text.
Wait it out
Like many things in life, it’s usually safer to let your emotions settle before you react. Try a healthier distraction (mentioned above) and then consider setting a timer of when you can reevaluate your hunger.
Be wary of social eating
It’s not realistic to avoid eating with others in a social setting (again, this can be a joyful part of life). However, most people tend to overeat when eating with others because we tend to mirror how people around us eat. To help control how much you eat, focus instead on the conversation and fun happening around you.
Training your body to eat when it’s hungry takes time and focus, but it has great rewards for your health.
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And while you’re here, check out our other articles on nutrition and diet.
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