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Winning the Battle With Emotional Eating

emotional eating

When it comes to food, a whole range of psychological factors come into play. The truth is, food is not just nutrition and fuel for our bodies, it is also part of our history, our journey, our culture and our family tradition. Food is something that is meant to be enjoyed for the taste and pleasure it brings us.  Cooking, baking, and eating are all ways in which we connect with others and care for ourselves and the people we love.

Both stress eating and emotional eating can cause health problems when indulged as a long-term or frequent practice. Let’s start by identifying what qualifies as emotional eating.

Emotional eating is a recurring and unconscious attraction toward foods that fill an emotional void or distract from what's really bothering you. It can be associated with stress, anxiety, frustration, sadness, boredom, or even happy moments. Now, this does not mean that celebrating with meals or eating during stressful situations are dangerous for your health. Emotional eating and stress eating have negative effects if they are uncontrolled and indulged in repeatedly over time. Emotional eating is a problem if:

-      It’s your only coping mechanism.

-      If you feel guilty and ashamed anytime you eat to cope with stress. That guilt creates a stress response and keeps you trapped in the vicious cycle of emotional eating.

-      You feel guilty and ashamed for emotional eating, so you continue to emotionally eat.

The problems with these behaviors are the possible weight-related health consequences such as: weight gain, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and mental health issues that can develop from these habits.

Now that we have a better understanding of emotional and stress eating, there is good news: we can use several options to control it and help prevent falling into this pattern.

1.     Identify triggers. It is important to know when are you eating for reasons other than hunger. For example: boredom, a fight with someone special, poor performance, sadness, work load, etc. Once you identify your trigger, it would be easy to proactively put some other self-care measure in place to help you deal with the trigger. Some options can be: take a walk, read a book, take a bath or call a friend. You can also ask yourself “Why am I eating? Am I really hungry?” to help identify your triggers.

2.     Be open. Keeping an open mind to try new things can help you find alternative ways to relax. Look for a new sports outlet or practice creative activities such as drawing or painting to help you manage your emotions in a different way.

3.     Journaling. It can be useful to write down what you are eating, and how you are feeling at the moment. This can help identify your triggers and also pinpoint the foods that you gravitate towards. 

4.     Learn other ways to reward yourself. If you are used to associating happy or bad events with food this could very easily lead to emotional eating. Instead, replace a food reward, (ice cream, for example) with something like treating yourself to a manicure, or taking some “me time” to read or journal.

5.     Slow down when you are eating. Usually, when you eat to feed your feelings there is a tendency to do it very quickly. It is so fast that is easy to miss flavor and texture. It’s as if you are in an autopilot mode that even makes you miss the “feeling full” signs.  So slow down every time you eat. Savor every bite and enjoy your food.  This will help you to know if you are really hungry.

6.     Keep your trigger foods away from your kitchen and pantry. Make sure you plan balanced meals with healthy, nutritious foods and avoid buying the products you tend to eat emotionally. This will help you to choose healthier options, and to think twice about whether you really want to eat. 

Lastly, don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if you do need extra help. Your health is a priority! Just like rewarding yourself with something other than food, exploring a different coping mechanism is another viable option if you feel like emotional eating is becoming a problem. Look for a caring health care professional who can guide you on your journey.