Ever experienced an urge to eat your feelings instead of process them? Then you’re just like the rest of us. Emotional eating happens when we are triggered by something emotionally, whether that be sadness, anxiety, depression, or nervousness, and as a result, turn to food as a source of comfort to avoid dealing with or tolerating difficult feelings. Discovering ways to stop emotional eating will not only help you face your problems, but it will improve the way you look, act, and feel.
According to Jennifer Kromberg, Doctor of Psychology, these following 5 things are the main contributors of emotional eating:
1. Unawareness: unconscious eating (picking at your meal when full, eating food just because it is in front of you)
2. Food as Your Only Pleasure: binge eating, mainly on fats and sugars, literally releases opioids (active ingredients in cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics), so you associate food with pleasure
3. Inability to Tolerate Difficult Feelings: avoid things that feel bad or uncomfortable by distracting ourselves with food
4. Body Hate: hating your body is the biggest reason people emotional eat.
5. Physiology: letting yourself get too hungry, or too tired, which triggers unconscious eating
With these in mind, here are 10 effective ways to finally stop emotional eating:
1. Practice Mindful Eating
Reserve a time for dinner – put away all distractions (TV, newspaper, books, magazines, mail, homework, computer, etc.), and let eating become a meditative practice. Be fully present for the food in front of you – you will find that your food does not only taste better, but you actually get fuller faster, and eat less!
2. Stop Using Food As A Reward
A lot of the times we turn to food for comfort, or as a reward. Sweets, and high-fat foods are regarded as highly rewarding because they are considered most palatable. When we make the connection “food as reward,” the pleasure centres of the brain become stimulated when we eat said foods, and when we come home from a hard days work, or really intense workout, we want to reward ourselves with these foods to make ourselves feel good. Recognizing this, and getting out of this trap, is a major step in curbing emotional eating.
3. Fully Experience Emotions As They Come
Instead of shoving down your emotions with food, try recognizing your feeling and emotions first, and then going from there. Ask yourself “am I really hungry, or am I depressed, sad, angry, anxious, excited” – and if so, why are you feeling this way? Try to find the basis of your emotions first, before turning to food (this is something I am currently working on!).
4. Love Your Body
Learning to love and accept your body for where it is at, at any stage, is the first step in self-love and self-acceptance. Recognizing your beauty, inside and out, will prevent you from trying to change yourself by denying yourself certain foods. If you chose to diet, it would be out of self-love and care for the body you have now. Dr. Gail Dines says, “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”
5. Eat Regularly
Eating regularly and not skipping meals is one of the major tips to prevent binge eating or emotional eating. If you skip a meal, it is likely that you are going to over-eat at the next meal due to extreme hunger pangs. Find your style of eating, and stick with it. I personally graze throughout the day, and this has considerably helped lessen my food cravings throughout the day.
6. Drink Enough Water
Make sure you are drinking at least 3-4 litres of water daily. Our body is 60-70% water, so staying hydrated is incredibly important. How will this stop emotional eating you ask? Sometimes when we think we’re hungry, we are actually just thirsty! Drinking water often curbs cravings. If you are still hungry after drinking some water, then reach for something healthy like a ripe banana or dragon fruit!
Exercising is a great emotional outlet because you are in control. A lot of emotional eating is triggered by loss of control, because eating is something you have control over. Exercising provides the same in-control feelings that food does, so try this method next time you reach for the ice cream container.
8. Relax First, Eat Second
If your day has been endlessly long, usually the first thing you want to do when you get home is eat anything in sight. Instead, try relaxing in a warm bath with some lavender essential oils for 20 minutes. If baths aren’t your thing, do some yoga, garden, read – anything that will help relax you before you make any instant food-eating decisions that might be based entirely out of the wrong context.
9. Make Your Home A Healthy Environment
If there is nothing “bad” in your house to eat, then you simply won’t eat it! Keeping healthy food items in your kitchen like plenty of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you only eat these foods, and won’t be triggered to binge on unhealthy junk goods. Also, do not go grocery shopping when you are feeling strong emotions, which might otherwise trigger you to purchase unhealthy foods. Instead, take some relaxation time, write out a healthy grocery shopping list, and eat something like a green smoothie before heading to the store.
10. Discover Satisfying Alternatives
Ask yourself – WHY does food make you feel better? Perhaps it is the sensation, the sense of satisfaction, happiness, etc. Coming up with alternative behaviours that can help you deal with your emotions, instead of “eating” them is a great way to prevent eating that is emotionally based.
Dr. Amita Shroff points out, “[are you] frustrated because you have no control over circumstances? Go for a walk on a path you choose. Hurt by a co-worker’s mean comments? Take it out on a punching bag, or make a plan for how you’re going to talk it out. Bored? Distract yourself by calling a friend or surfing the Internet.”
Finding new, healthier habits to adopt instead of constantly turning to food to help trigger those feelings of satisfaction will help you break your emotional ties to food in due time.