8 Tips To Help Stop Emotional Eating
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Everyone comfort eats from time to time. Sometimes it is buying a frozen coffee with caramel and whipped cream after a stressful day at work or eating chocolate when it’s that time of the month. These small stress eating events aren’t physically dangerous, but they can develop a habit. That habit of emotional eating can lead you to gain weight or even prevent you from losing weight.
Emotional eating can be very problematic when it is the primary way that you soothe yourself during stress. Luckily, there are ways to stop emotional eating before it harms you physically and emotionally.
Are you an emotional eater?
The 4 criteria below describe an emotional eating pattern.
How Can I Tell if I am Emotionally Eating?
- You eat when you aren’t physically hungry. Consider how long ago it was since you ate. Was it 3 hours ago or a half hour? Is your body sending you any clear signals that you are hungry? Is your stomach grumbling? Are you low on energy?
- It is hard to find food that will satisfy you. For this reason, you don’t stop eating when you are full. You may find yourself scavenging for food or eating things you don’t even like.
- Cravings are triggered by an emotion such as anger, anxiety, or boredom etc.
- Emotional eating has a mindless component to it. You may not enjoy or taste the food because you are eating it mechanically, as if in a trance. Imagine sitting in front of the TV mindlessly popping chips into your mouth.
If you can relate to one or several of these patterns your eating habits are controlled by your emotions. In order to change this habit, you can start using the 8 tips to stop emotional eating. There is no particular order of importance for these tips. Start using one at a time to figure out the most effective way to break the emotional eating cycle.
1. Be Aware.
Much of emotional eating is so unconscious that it happens automatically or below your awareness. Before you jump into changing this behavior, keep a journal. Write down where and when you stress eat. The office? Late at night? When you are alone? Are there any patterns that you notice? Every time you eat, ask yourself how physically hungry you are on a scale from 1-10. If you are a 6-10, it’s likely that you are physically hungry. A 3, for example, would signify that you are stress eating.
If you take out stress eating, you have to put something in its place. Write down a concrete list of all the healthy, non-calorie related activities that give you a quick pick-me-up on a tough day. Here a few simple examples:
- One-Minute Fix: Sip black tea. A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that subjects who drank black tea experienced a 47% drop in their cortisol levels, the stress hormone that makes you crave food, compared to 27% among the subjects who drank a placebo.
- One-Minute Fix: If a foot rub would hit the spot better than a snack, try self-massage. It can be as simple as sitting down, taking off your shoe and placing your foot over a tennis ball. Rub your feet, one at a time, over the top of the ball until they feel relaxed and soothed. According to the study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, self-massage slows your heart rate and lowers your level of cortisol.
- One-Minute Fix: Mindless eating soothes raw nerves by numbing out emotions. Munching gives you a moment to zone out from daily commotion and stress. Instead, actively choose a healthy way to clear your mind. Try a quick breathing exercise. Slowing down your breathing can trick your body into thinking you are going to sleep, which in turn relaxes your body. Close your eyes. Stare at the blackness of your eyelids. Slowly breathe in and out. Count each time you inhale and exhale. Continue until you get to 10.
3. Give Yourself Extra Love
Make pleasure a priority in your life! Flavor your water with fruit, wear soft, comfortable clothes, take bubble baths. Give your body other ways to experience feeling good, aside from eating. If you do find yourself in the middle of a binge, try allowing yourself to fully enjoy it. Sit down and savor every bite. The more focused you are on how good it feels to eat, the harder it will be to eat to the point of pain. Many times emotional eating is just our body’s attempt at experiencing pleasure.
Flavor your water with fruit, wear soft, comfortable clothes, take bubble baths, etc. This allows you to give your body (and mind) other ways to experience feeling good besides eating. If you do find yourself on a binge, try allowing yourself to enjoy it. Sit down and savor every bite. The more focused you are on how good it feels to eat, the harder it will be to eat to the point of pain. Many times emotional eating is just our body’s attempt at experiencing pleasure.
4. Eat only when you’re actually hungry.
Emotional eaters will usually not eat when they are hungry. This only makes them want to eat a lot later. As the author, Geneen Roth says, “For every diet, there’s an equal and opposite binge.” So instead, eat real, healthy, and nourishing foods whenever you experience physical hunger. Doing so will teach your body that you are not in what the weight-loss advocate Jon Gabriel calls, “starvation mode.” The Gabriel Method author says, “You become very efficient at storing fat and you lose the ability to burn it.” This means that eating when you’re hungry will not only make you less inclined to binge, but it will also tell your body that it’s safe to lose weight.
5. Prepare for your next binge by knowing your triggers.
Discover your triggers and create a plan. If you know you eat when you’re lonely, plan to call a friend or write in your journal instead. Also, always carry food with you so that you never feel deprived. Emotional eating can be your body’s reaction to feeling deprived, so create new ways to nourish yourself. Stock your fridge with delicious, healthy foods, pack your calendar with exciting things to do, and be disciplined about setting aside time for yourself to relax.
6. Wake up to your own beauty.
If you knew how beautiful you were, you wouldn’t deny yourself food to try to change yourself. You also wouldn’t emotionally eat as a release, because there’d be no tension from which to release. Any shift in diet would be out of self-love and care for your beautiful body. It’s time to wake up to your beauty and feed your body with the love and tenderness it truly deserves.
7. Ground Your Mind
Grounding techniques are a powerful way to support yourself through heavy emotional times. They can help to bring you back to the present moment and prevent you from being swept away by your feelings and resorting to mindlessly eating. Here is one great grounding tactic. Pick up a book or magazine, flip through it, and choose a passage. Read it back to yourself—start with the last word in the passage and continue until you reach the very first word. Do this with two more passages.
8. Stop emotional eating: Ground your body, too
There are many different ways that you can jolt your body into the here and now and out of your head. Hold a piece of ice and feel it melt between your fingers; bite into a slice of lemon, lime, or grapefruit; place your hand under cold or hot water; dig one of your heels into the floor; sit down in a chair, grab the arms or seat tightly, and release. Yoga and meditation are also great ways to keep your body grounded. It clears your mind and releases tension which are triggers to emotional eating.
Emotional eating can start at any time as it is a learned habit. Being aware of your triggers and staying focused on the present moment can help you regain control of your emotions and your reaction to food. Remember, you are stronger than you think.
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