As anyone who’s watching their weight will tell you, hunger is just one of many reasons that people eat. Those with a tendency toward emotional eating are especially vulnerable to making poor diet choices. If you’re an emotional eater, you may find yourself eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions, using food as a reward when you’re happy, and craving sweets or unhealthy snacks when stressed.
(Don’t worry; you’re not alone!) The following ideas can help you to cut down emotional eating and develop healthier eating habits—even when stressed!
First: Awareness is Key
I’m mentioning this first because awareness can be the most powerful aspect of change here, even though the other strategies listed are highly effective as well. Reading this article is a great first step in awareness; you clearly know that this is an issue to explore, and you’re educating yourself. Now, becoming more aware of how the problem plays out personally for you is the next step. Emotional eating is sometimes called “mindless eating” because we often don’t think about what we’re doing, and let our unconscious habits or drives take over. (Mindful eating – more on this later – can be helpful here, and involves awareness as you eat.) But before you can put mindful eating into practice, being aware of how you feel right before you eat is vital.
The trick is to be more aware of why you’re eating when you eat. One way to check-in with yourself is to maintain a food journal, either in physical journal form or as an app you can install on your phone. If you have to log what you eat right before you eat it, you may realize you’re eating for the wrong reasons, and can then move onto another approach to deal with your feelings.
Once you break the habit of mindlessly reaching for food, it becomes easier to put the next list of techniques into place.
Find Relaxation Techniques
When you’re under stress, your body is likely producing higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that tends to make people crave sweet and salty food—the stuff that’s generally not good for us. If you’re experiencing stress on a regular basis and aren’t finding ways to relax your body relatively quickly, cortisol could be creating these cravings, as well as contributing to other health problems. The following stress relievers for busy people can help, you can create a simple stress management plan, or you can find stress relievers that fit with your specific situation with the Stress Reliever Personality Tool.
Cope In Healthy Ways
Many people use food to deal with uncomfortable emotions like anger, frustration, fear, and other feelings. While we need food for survival, there are healthier ways to cope with emotions:
- Talk To A Friend. Social support can go a long way toward helping you process your feelings, gain support if needed, and move on. (Just don’t meet your friend at The Cheesecake Factory!)
- Try Journaling. Processing one’s feelings in a journal has been found to have many health benefits beyond mere stress management. When you feel like reaching for unhealthy food, reach for a pen instead.
- Exercise. Getting your body moving is a great way to blow off steam and get your endorphins going, and is a much healthier option than overeating.
Face Your Problems
If you’re using food to muffle your feelings in a difficult relationship, try assertiveness instead. If food is your only treat at a job you hate, try techniques for finding satisfaction at your job, or get a different one. Cut down on the stress in your life and you won’t need food to help you cope.
Use Mindfulness Exercises
Many people have successfully staved off cravings or greatly reduced the amount of “stress” food they eat by practicing mindful eating.
Mindfulness can also help people get out of the habit of acting in their cravings without thinking. Mindfulness exercises are simple to learn and wonderful for promoting resilience to stress in general, so you really can’t lose.
Try Healthy Alternatives
If these techniques don’t completely eliminate your emotional eating urges, go ahead and indulge – but use healthier fare. Drink Perrier instead of soda; munch on veggies or healthy snacks instead of chips; savor one small piece of dark chocolate instead of binging on a whole chocolate muffin from the coffee shop (it’ll help you live longer!). All of these things can be good for you, so you’ll still come out ahead without feeling completely deprived.