Some people find comfort in eating when they are under some kind of emotional stress. In fact, it is a more common habit than you can imagine. This habit is called emotional eating.
The funny thing about emotional eating is that people who use it as a coping mechanism usually end up feeling guilty for eating this way, causing them to eat even more to cover their guilt. So it becomes an unhealthy habit of eating away their negative emotions until several associated issues like weight gain pop up.
Why then, do they do this if they know it is bad? That is because negative emotions may bring about a feeling of emptiness. Since you get a sense of fullness after eating, the next “rational” thought would be to try to fill that emotional void with the fullness that food brings.
The first step to tackle emotional eating is to identify situations that trigger it. Unpleasant emotions are usually the triggers for emotional eating. However, positive emotions like rewarding yourself to celebrate an event can also trigger emotional eating. If you can identify your triggers, it becomes easier to spot patterns and control your eating habits.
Some common triggers include stress, boredom or numbness, social influences, childhood habits, and stuffing emotions.
Once you have identified your triggers, the next step is coming up with new ways to deal with them that don’t involve food. It’s not just enough to understand the root cause; you also have to find ways to ensure that your emotions don’t hijack whatever progress you have made.
If you feel anxious, burn off your nervous energy by dancing, doing chores, exercising, or squeezing a stress ball.
If you feel depressed or lonely, talk to someone that makes you feel better.
If you feel exhausted, take a warm bath, relax, read, or sleep.
If you feel bored, watch your favorite show, read a good book, or do something else you enjoy.
Emotional eating tends to be mindless and automatic. You’ve already reached for something to munch on before you’re even aware of it. But if you can pause for a moment to reflect, it gives you a chance to make a different decision.
Put off your craving for five minutes. While waiting, check in with yourself, and your emotions. Even if you cave in, you’ll have a better understanding of the reasons behind it. The next time it happens, you are better prepared to have a different response.
It is easier to succumb to your cravings when you have unhealthy foods in your pantry and refrigerator. Remove temptations by getting rid of the common culprits that play a role in your emotional eating. Don’t just hide them as they will still be in your immediate reach. Instead, throw them out or donate them. While you do that, stock up on healthier food choices like fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods.
It is easier for a healthy body and a well-rested mind to handle any surprise that life has in store for you. But if you already feel exhausted and overwhelmed, any little event can send you off the rails and towards food. Exercise, sleep for eight hours each night, relax, and adopt other healthy habits to help you cope.