Stress is a fact of life that’s hard to escape, and each person has a unique way of coping with emotional and physical stress. Eating or drinking foods that bring comfort is one coping mechanism some people use. While you might assume that people with eating disorders are thin and malnourished, emotional eating is a type of eating disorder, and people with it come in all shapes and sizes. You might know someone who is an emotional eater or be one yourself.
Emotional eating often starts by using junk food to get a temporary mood boost when things get stressful. Eating food you enjoy gives you a temporary release from emotional stress. It feels so rewarding it becomes a habit you do unconsciously. The problem is not the food itself, but how the food is used to relieve stress or emotional turmoil. Enjoying unhealthy food is fine, but it shouldn’t be something that takes over your life.
Stopping Emotional Eating
The good news? You can conquer emotional eating. It may take time and patience to break the connection between stress and eating, but you can turn things around once you know you’re a stress eater. Let’s look at seven simple ways to get emotional eating under control.
Identify triggers that make you emotionally eat
You can’t change emotional eating habits until you know what triggers them. Emotional eating is a way to distract from deeper feelings and emotions. It’s important to identify the triggers that cause you to overeat and eat unhealthy foods, so you can break the connection.
One way to do that is to keep a journal. In your journal, write down each time you have the urge to snack, along with your emotional state at the time the urge came on. Rate your hunger on a scale from one to five. True hunger should be a four or a five. By rating your hunger, you’ll learn to distinguish between true biological hunger and emotional hunger. True hunger is not food-specific either. If you’re craving brownies, cookies, or pizza, but not an apple or a bowl of vegetables, it’s not biological hunger. First, you must recognize when you’re eating for reasons other than because your body needs more energy.
Take a walk instead of eating when hungry
When you eat for emotional reasons, you use food to relieve stress. Why not substitute another stress-relieving behavior for food? Taking a walk outdoors in a green area relaxes the mind, and exercise is not only healthy but also a distraction from eating. Plus, studies show that nature lowers blood pressure and the body’s stress response. Taking regular outdoor walks helps you conquer the stress that causes you to overeat. Fresh air, sunshine, and movement are satisfying for the body and mind.
Drink more water
Studies show that people often mistake hunger for thirst. Although emotional eating doesn’t stem from true hunger, drinking water mimics the movements of eating. Plus, even mild dehydration can worsen stress by causing a down mood, headache, and fatigue, all symptoms that can trigger emotional eating. Carry a stainless steel water bottle with you and sip on it throughout the day.
Write down your struggles and what solutions you’ve come up with in a journal
Writing in a journal will help you get in better touch with stress and the emotions that drive you to eat. You can write in a blank journal or buy a prompt journal, a journal that gives you a prompt or question to encourage you to express your feelings. Expressing your thoughts through writing can also help you come to terms with your thoughts and emotions. In turn, that helps you better manage stress.
Take a bite of food and then wait 10 minutes to decide if you want more
Eating more mindfully helps you be aware of your body’s signals and helps you appreciate what you eat more. Studies show that eating mindfully, focusing on a food’s texture, aroma, and taste without being distracted, helps you be satisfied with less. When you feel the desire to eat something unhealthy, take a bite and eat it slowly and mindfully, taking note of its sensory aspects. Then put the food down and wait 10 minutes. Once you hit the pause button, you’ll often find the desire to eat more goes away. It’s also true the first bite of something is the most satisfying. Learn to savor a bit, step away, and then reassess.
Take a 10-minute meditation break
Meditation relieves stress, and stress drives emotional eaters to eat. Plus, it helps you focus on the moment and become more mindful. Don’t be intimidated by mindfulness meditation either. There are free apps you can use to learn how to meditate. Plus, it doesn’t require a major time investment. You can benefit from meditation sessions as short as 10 minutes. Studies show meditation can improve the symptoms of emotional eating and binge eating. It’s an excellent reboot for your mind too.
Consider cognitive behavioral therapy
Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps with emotional eating. Cognitive therapy is a process of changing how you interpret and react to stress. Through this type of therapy, you learn healthier ways to deal with negative feelings and stress that don’t involve food. To participate in this type of therapy, you’ll need the help of a cognitive-behavioral therapist who will guide you through this process. During therapy, you’ll learn to recognize thoughts that go through your head when you’re under stress that cause you to overeat or eat the wrong foods. By acknowledging them, you’ll learn to associate those thoughts with healthier thoughts and actions. Over time, your desire to eat when you’re stressed will decline.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you have a clearer idea of whether emotional eating is a problem for you, and steps you can take to deal with the issue. It takes time, so expect to spend some time putting these actions into practice before expecting results.