Emotional eating is using food to fill an emotional need rather than to fulfill a physical hunger.
People often say they have “fallen off the wagon”, meaning they made positive lifestyle changes and then life got in the way and they slipped back into their unhealthy routines. This situation seems to be common, however, there is actually no such thing as “falling off the wagon,” simply because there is no wagon to begin with.
Everyone has their struggles and their bad days. It’s important to know that health is not a destination that you arrive at; it’s a journey and a lifestyle that you consciously work for every day. Try to make small improvements and learn from your mistakes to become the healthiest version of yourself.
Emotional Hunger v. Physical Hunger
5 STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME
Strategy 1: Set up a Healthy Home Environment
Emotional eating is often automatic and mindless. If you plan ahead and prepare a healthy home environment, you are setting yourself up for success. Next time you are in an emotional state, you will be less likely to reach for the comfort of food.
Three things to help you set up a healthy home environment:
Clean out your fridge or pantry
If you don’t have unhealthy foods in your house, then you’ve created a buffer for emotional eating.
Rearrange your fridge and pantry
Behavioral studies have shown that foods in visible sight or at eye level are more likely to be eaten. Keep your “treats” hidden away in a drawer and the healthy options front and center.
Portion out your food
Did you know eating from a smaller diameter plate will give you different brain reactions? For example, switching from an 8 inch plate to a 4 in plate might be a helpful tip to control overeating. Also, portion out food that comes from a bag, like chips or nuts, and put them in a smaller bowl when eating.
Strategy 2: Identify Triggers & Bad Eating Habits
What situations or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Are you eating comfort foods at a certain time of day or after certain interactions?
Two tips to help you identify your triggers and bad eating habits:
Think about the why
Next time you feel yourself reaching for food for a reason other than physical hunger, stop and think about the reason WHY you are reaching for that food. Is it because you had a stressful day at work? Is it because you had a fight with a friend?
Common emotional triggers are stress, comfort after a bad day, anxiety and depression.
Keep a food and mood journal
Log what you’re eating and what your emotions were. Tracking these instances and identifying triggers are an important step for changing unhealthy behaviors. A food journal is meant to be temporary. Once you’ve identified your bad eating habits and improve upon them, feel free to ditch the journal and eat in a natural and healthy way.
Strategy 3: Pause When Cravings Hit
When you find yourself craving something, take time to pause and think about it and give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision. When you have a specific craving, ask yourself “Am I hungry? Or am I actually bored or stressed?”
Think back to the emotional triggers you have identified. Then ask yourself another question: Is there a better way to address whatever emotion I am feeling, instead of turning to food.
Two things to help yourself during a moment of craving:
Take a breather
Wait five minutes instead of immediately indulging. If you need to, set a timer. Tell yourself to wait and see if you still want that food after you have time to clear your mind and think rationally.
Think past the craving
How will you feel after you give into your craving? Will you feel better? Will you feel worse? Will it address your problem or the emotion you’re feeling? Most likely, the answer will be no.
Strategy 4: Find a New Outlet Besides Food
Once you’ve identified what is causing you to eat emotionally, finding a different outlet for that emotion is the next step.
A few things to try:
Find an alternative activity to eating
Find a physical alternative to eating. Try going for a walk, working out, reading a book, playing a game with your children, or some other fulfilling hobby.
Studies have shown that as little as five minutes of nature can improve your mood and boost your self-esteem. Get outside, take a walk and breathe in the fresh air.
Talk about it
Holding in feelings of stress or anxiety is only going to make you feel more stressed or anxious. When you’re distressed, find someone you can talk to about your emotions, whether that is a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a pet. Talking about it and venting can be a powerful emotional release.
Strategy 5: Improve Overall Health & Well Being
If you’re well-rested and healthy, it will be easier to handle day-to-day obstacles that may otherwise have derailed you from your health goals.
Focus on what you’re doing to improve your overall health.
Healthy Foods = Healthy You
Maintain a well-balanced diet of lean proteins, vegetables, quality carbohydrates and healthy fats. Keep your body hydrated with water and not sugary drinks.
Make daily exercise a priority. Staying active doesn’t mean spending hours at the gym. You can incorporate activity into your day: take the stairs, go for a walk, play with your kids. Exercise releases endorphin and can be a powerful mood booster and increase your overall energy levels.
Stay well rested
When you’re sleeping, your body is repairing itself. When you’re not well rested, you feel sluggish and tired and are less likely to stick to your health routines.
Find your “me” time to relax and decompress. Set aside even just 10-15 minutes a day to relax and do something you enjoy, whether that’s going for a walk, meditating, reading a book or watching a TV show.
Make meaningful connections
Studies have shown people with strong social connections live longer, so maybe laughter is one of the best forms of medicine after all! Make time for friends and family and spend time together in a meaningful way.