Emotional eating and how to control it.

Emotional eating is when a person uses food to help them deal with stress. Many people experience emotional eating at one time or another. It could show itself as eating a bag of chips when bored or eating a chocolate bar after may be a bad day at work. People who emotionally eat reach for food several times a week or more to suppress and soothe negative feelings end up having their life, health, and happiness negatively affected. They may even feel guilt or shame after eating this way, leading to a cycle of excess eating and associated issues like weight gain. 

Emotional eating is triggered by stress and many such other emotions.  Some common triggers include; 

To avoid an unpleasant situation– An argument at home, financial tensions etc. can cause some people to lose appetite, but also more commonly causes people to eat. They find food to be soothing as well as distracting. 

To end boredom- Being bored or having nothing to do is a common emotional eating trigger. Food can seem like the answer. Eating is something to do. 

Out of habit – Old habits are driven by nostalgia or things that may be childhood memories, like an ice cream treat for doing well in school or old family favorite.   

Mindless eating- Eating mindlessly, putting food in your mouth without being aware of the taste or how satisfied you are is a form of self-soothing. You may “veg-out” in the same chair each night, watching various television shows, and not even be aware that you aren’t truly present. 

Fatigue– It is easier to overeat or eat mindlessly when fatigued, especially when tired of doing an unpleasant task. Craving for food often occurs when you are tired, particularly mentally tired and burnt out. Then food can seem like the perfect answer to not wanting to do any particular activity. 

How do you cope with it? 

The first step to getting your emotional eating under control is to understand the triggers.  

Practice mindfulness – The best way to outsmart our brain, which urges us to eat even when we don’t want to, is to practice mindfulness. When in the face of stress, the best thing we can do is slow down and take a couple of deep breaths. Which allows us to focus on making better decisions, decisions that will serve us in the long run and not just provide temporary satisfaction. 

Keep a food Diary- Keeping a log of what you eat and when you eat, may help you identify triggers that lead to emotional eating. You can jot down in a notebook. Try to include everything you eat — however big or small — and record the emotions you’re feeling in that moment.  

Eat a healthy diet– Give your body the right healthy food. Eating well during the day makes it easier to spot when you are eating out of boredom or sadness or stress. You could also try and reach out to healthier food options like fruits, salads, salt free nuts, plain popcorn and other low fat /low calorie foods. 

Clean your pantry cupboard- Clear out from your cupboard the foods that you reach out to in moments of the emotional weakness. Foods like ice cream, chips, noodles, chocolates etc. need to go. Also avoid going to grocery shopping when you are feeling low. Keeping the foods, you crave, out of reach when you’re feeling emotional may help break the cycle by giving you time to think before noshing. 

Check the quantity– Instead of grabbing an entire bag of chips, measure out a small portion and allow yourself just that much. This will help you develop mindful eating. Give yourself some time to calm yourself down before you get to a second helping.  

Talk– Sometimes talking to a friend or loved one can often work wonders on your mood. It’s always best to avoid isolation in times of stress, to avoid emotional eating.  

Pay attention/avoid distractions– Focus on your food when eating, avoid watching television, reading and set your phone down. By focusing on your food, the bites you take, and your level of hunger, you may discover that you’re eating emotionally. Some even find it helpful to focus on chewing 10 to 30 times before swallowing a bite of food. 

When to get help 

Even when we understand what’s going on, many of us still need help breaking the cycle of emotional eating. It’s not a battle that needs to be fought alone when there is weight gain and self-esteem issues associated with emotional eating 

Take advantage of expert help. Counselors and therapists can help you deal with your feelings. Nutritionists can help you identify your eating patterns and get you on track with a better diet. Fitness experts can get your body’s feel-good chemicals firing through exercise instead of food. 

If you’re worried about your eating habits, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you reach your weight goals and put you in touch with professionals who can help you get on a path to a new, healthier relationship with food. 

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Rithika Rajgopal

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