Do you crave food for fuel—or for comfort? We all feel difficult emotions. There are better ways to deal with them than reaching for an unhealthy snack.
Food is fuel. We need food to nourish our bodies. We also use food to celebrate. Food is the centerpiece of our festivities, whether we are coming together to have fun or to mourn. Yet this amazing source of nourishment can be a double-edged sword when it comes to emotional eating.
When we eat to comfort ourselves, we are feeding not our physical hunger, but our emotional hunger. We are using food to suppress painful emotions, which over time can lead to unwanted health problems and weight gain, paired with feelings of shame and guilt. Here are the five major steps to tackle emotional eating.
- Become aware
When you decide it’s time to take action, you can start by being mindful of what you are eating. Most of the time, we eat on autopilot. Until we start to pay attention, we might underestimate how much we actually eat.
Keep a food journal to track what and when you eat and to monitor what triggers you. You can also rate your level of hunger. On a scale of 1–5, just how hungry are you? A 3 or higher is a good indication you are physically hungry. If it’s a 1 or a 2, then you can ask yourself how you are feeling at the time. Are you bored, stressed or sad? Make a plan about frequency of meals and snacks ahead of time. That way, you will have a measuring stick to evaluate how you are doing and to pinpoint the problem times and situations.
When you recognize you are engaging in emotional eating, fall back on your planned list of substitutes. These replacements can be activities like meditating, walking the dog, visiting the local coffee shop or calling a friend. It might be helpful to confide in a friend and reach out to that person when you need an extra boost.
Pick your eating partners carefully
There is research that suggests who you eat with matters, as scientists reported in the journal Appetite. If you are a people pleaser or tend to mirror those around you, this little tip could help.
Get enough sleep
Andrew Calvin, a fellow in cardiovascular disease at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, observed that subjects who cut back on quality sleep time ate more food than those who reported sleeping better. If you skimp on sleep, you may risk adding an extra 500 calories a day or more. Create a journal to monitor and adjust your sleeping habits. Resting well is vital to your emotional and physical health.
Practice the new plan
Once you have decided what your substitutions will be, engage in those interests when you are not stressed or needing emotional comfort. Waiting until a triggering event to start practicing your new activities might make it harder for you to implement them when in a stressful state of mind. Eventually, you will re-wire your thoughts and reactions. Your substitutions will become your new way of dealing with your emotions.
How to manage your emotions
You are ready to implement your new plan. But, you still don’t know what to do about those feelings you have that trigger you to eat. Here’s what not to do: don’t try to convince yourself that you aren’t feeling something.
Coaching yourself to “stop feeling that way” doesn’t work. It is important that you express your emotions. Research supports this. One such study published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal in 2012 revealed that subjects taught coping skills require less high caloric food to sooth or calm themselves than do their counterparts. So if managing your emotions is hard for you, seek the advice of a qualified therapist or life coach who can help you understand your feelings better and learn how to process them in a more healthy and positive way.
Am I an emotional eater?
- If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to examine and monitor your eating habits.
- Do you tend to eat when you are not hungry?
- Do you usually select foods that are high fat, sugar-filled or salty?
- Are you reaching for foods to satisfy a craving instead of more healthy selections to fuel your body?
- Do you find it hard to find something that will satisfy your hunger or craving?
- Are you focused on the act of eating when engaging in other activities, like munching on popcorn while watching a movie?
- Do you eat when you are bored?
- Do you eat when you feeling upset, such as when you are sad, disappointed or rejected?
Michelle Armstrong is the owner of michellearmstrongfitness.com, which specializes in women’s health, fitness and overall wellbeing. She is a bestselling author, mindset expert, board certified holistic health practitioner and certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. Michelle is also a gifted soul coach and spiritual medium. Her latest book TRANSFORM is available online and in all major bookstores.