How To Overcome Emotional EatingNovember 8, 2021
Who hasn’t reached for a chocolate bar or a bag of chips as soon as things like stress starts setting in? We know a lot of people who do, and we do so ourselves—and it’s normal, not to mention preventable! It may be hard to believe that you can stop yourself from emotional eating thanks to your seemingly idle hands, but this is why we’ve put together this handy little list. Here are a few things you can do to stop emotional eating for good!
1. Figure out your triggers.
Emotional eating can become so ingrained and ordinary that we often don’t notice that it happens because of certain triggers. Here are some of the most common ones:
- It’s a habit. Sometimes, we’re simply just used to rewarding ourselves for weathering certain things: quick and easy fast food after a hard day’s work, sweets during a cheat day or as a dessert after eating something healthy that we didn’t like, etc. This can even tie back to when we were children: have you ever been rewarded with ice cream or cake for doing good in school? Perhaps quality time with the family involved a movie night and good ol’ pizza.
- You’re bored. There are people who turn to food as a source of comfort when they don’t have anything to do: it’s accessible and easy, and it fills the void of boredom by allowing us to do something.
- You’re under emotional stress. The term comfort food exists for a reason—it provides a feeling of well-being and touches on something sentimental that brings a lot of us back to better days filled with happiness and warmth. And when we’re feeling strongly about something or are stressed because of negative situations, what better way than to indulge in comfort food that reminds us of better days?
- It’s a friendly recommendation. By this, we mean a well-meaning someone who’s trying to be helpful by encouraging you to buy yourself some pizza, an ice cream, or to get yourself a drink for a myriad of reasons, usually to de-stress or reward yourself. Get togethers with family and friends may have an impact too: it’s easy to indulge in food when surrounded by familiar people who are all eating and socializing at the same time.
Once you know what your triggers are, it’ll be easier to do number two.
2. Have a healthier coping strategy in place.
The good thing about awareness is that you now have the power to make a choice—that choice being to do something about emotional eating. When you know what you’re up against, it’ll be easier to come up with an action plan to replace an unhealthy coping mechanism with something that’s going to be better for you in the long run. Here are some examples:
- On habits: you can break them. No matter how ingrained they are into your system, you can always substitute a healthier habit to take the place of a bad one. It may take some work, but knowing is already the first step—that mindfulness means that when you’re faced with a familiar trigger, you recognize it for what it is and can then decide not to indulge in emotional eating.
- On boredom: Find an activity to entertain yourself with, specifically one that doesn’t involve eating unhealthy food to your heart’s content. Watch a movie, or phone a friend. Read a book, or go for a walk. Or better yet, keep yourself busy with a new (or old) hobby!
- On emotional stress: Instead of trying to distract yourself from what you’re feeling. or running away from what’s causing you stress, maybe it’s time to face them. We often turn to emotional eating when we’re trying to escape something, and only by facing things head on can you resolve whatever issues you have.
- On recommendations: Again, awareness is key. Knowing your ticks gives you a choice, meaning you’re less likely to just accept suggestions from your loved ones, especially related to emotional eating. John’s idea to get more pizza than you can eat sounds awesome, but you don’t have to do it.
3. Give yourself five minutes: is it real hunger or is it all in your head?
We cannot reiterate enough how ingrained emotional eating often is, and as you get used to identifying your triggers and making the necessary adjustments, it may become difficult to figure out whether you’re really hungry or if you’re just reacting to your ticks. Since this is the case, give yourself a few minutes and ask these questions:
- Is this a sudden onset of hunger, or has it been building up for the past few hours? Hunger related to emotions tends to hit you in an instant, while real hunger is more slow-paced, something that you can feel coming on the further you go from the last time you’ve had a meal.
- Real, physical hunger will tell you to eat anything that’s available—this shows how hungry you really are. But if it’s an instant craving for unhealthy food, then it might be emotional hunger that can lead to emotional eating.
- Is your stomach complaining by way of grumbling and growling? This isn’t to say you should wait until it does, but it can be one of the signs you look for when you’re feeling particularly hungry since emotional hunger doesn’t have these effects on your stomach.
The key to preventing emotional eating is knowing what triggers you and devising coping strategies around said triggers so you can prevent yourself from indulging. It may not be an instant solution to stopping you, but by asking yourself the right questions and being willing to address the issue is a great start to overcoming it for good.
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