If you use food to deal with your moods, you may be an emotional eater. Emotional eaters typically use food to block out or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, irritability, depression, loneliness, anxiety, boredom and guilt.
Though food may help make you feel better in the short run, the satisfaction is only temporary. Food can’t take away negative feelings. But turning to food for comfort can cause unwanted weight gain, especially because many emotional eaters choose high-calorie, sweet, salty and/or fatty foods. The result: feelings of guilt and more negativity, which can trigger yet another eating episode. It’s an unhealthy cycle that can get out of hand quickly.
Stop the Cycle of Emotional Eating
- Write it down. Think about the last time you had a powerful urge to overeat. Write down what you were feeling. By seeing the emotion on paper, you establish an awareness of that emotion. This is the first step to healing. The quicker you acknowledge the trigger, the more success you’ll have in curbing your eating behavior.
- Identify triggers. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal certain triggers. For example, you may notice that cravings strike every afternoon at 3 p.m. To avoid this, you may choose to take a walk during your afternoon break before the craving hits. Or, you may decide it’s the perfect time for a healthy snack you’ve planned.
- Find comfort elsewhere. Your patterns may show that you hit the cookie jar whenever you feel lonely or stressed. Instead of a cookie, think about what else might soothe your soul. Take a walk, listen to music, call a friend, practice deep breathing or start a project you’ve been putting off.
- Eat balanced meals. Try to eat balanced meals at regular times that include wholesome carbs, lean protein and healthy fats. Strive for whole grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. When you fill up on the basics, you’re more likely to prevent low blood sugar and feel satisfied for a longer period of time.
- Choose healthy snacks. A rice cake with natural peanut butter, cottage cheese with nuts and fruit, an apple and a piece of string cheese, or even a bowl of bean soup are all good choices. Filling up at the proper time can ward off cravings. Limit sweets, though, as they can trigger another eating cycle.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that less than six hours of sleep can lead to increased hunger and cravings for salty, high-carb and sugary foods. The sleep-deprived body also loses the ability to turn off appetite, which leads to consuming large quantities of food.
- Get in touch with your hunger. Pay attention to physical hunger cues, such as a rumbling stomach. You want to eat when you are physically hungry, not emotionally hungry. This can help to stop the cycle.
Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you have a relapse. Everyone has an occasional slip up. Changing your eating habits takes time and patience.
Need some healthy snack time suggestions? Check out our recipe library!