Emotional Eating: Why It Happens and How to Stop It
Negative emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void.
Food is believed to be a way to fill that void and create a false feeling of “fullness” or temporary wholeness.
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While filling up could work in the moment, eating because of negative emotions often leaves people feeling more upset than before.
This cycle typically doesn’t end until a person addresses emotional needs head-on.
Discovering another way to deal with negative emotions is often the first step toward overcoming emotional eating. This could mean writing in a journal, reading a book, or finding a few minutes to otherwise relax and decompress from the day.
Experiment with a variety of activities to find what works for you.
Some people find relief in getting regular exercise. A walk or jog around the block or a quickie yoga routine may help in particularly emotional moments.
There are a variety of studies that support mindfulness meditation as a treatment for binge eating disorder and emotional eating.
Simple deep breathing is a meditation that you can do almost anywhere. Sit in a quiet space and focus on your breath — slowly flowing in and out of your nostrils.
Keeping a log of what you eat and when you eat it may help you identify triggers that lead to emotional eating.
Try to include everything you eat — however big or small — and record the emotions you’re feeling at that moment.
Make sure you get enough nutrients to fuel your body. If you eat well throughout the day, it may be easier to spot when you’re eating out of boredom or sadness or stress.
Try reaching for healthy snacks, like fresh fruit or vegetables, plain popcorn, and other low-fat, low-calorie foods.
Consider trashing or donating foods in your cupboards that you often reach for in moments of strife.
Think high-fat, sweet or calorie-laden things, like chips, chocolate, and ice cream. Also, postpone trips to the grocery store when you’re feeling upset.
Resist grabbing a whole bag of chips or other food to snack on. Measuring out portions and choosing small plates to help with portion control are mindful eating habits to work on developing.
Once you’ve finished one helping, give yourself time before going back for a second.
Resist isolation in moments of sadness or anxiety. Even a quick phone call to a friend or family member can do wonders for your mood. There are also formal support groups that can help.
Overeaters Anonymous is an organization that addresses overeating from emotional eating, compulsive overeating, and other eating disorders.
You may find yourself eating in front of the television, computer, or some other distraction. Try switching off the tube or putting down your phone the next time you find yourself in this pattern.
By focusing on your food, the bites you take, and your level of hunger, you may discover that you’re eating emotionally.
Feelings of shame and guilt are associated with emotional eating. It’s important to work on the self-talk you experience after an episode.
Instead of coming down hard, try learning from your setback. Use it as an opportunity to plan for the future.
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Pay attention to your emotions as you start to think about eating (you might feel hungry, or have a craving to eat something). Notice your emotions as you eat, and after as well.
Start with the emotional trigger that occurs most frequently. So if you only have social eating triggers once or twice a week, but you have stress or comfort triggers multiple times a day, choose the latter.
If the need is a way to cope with stress, you need to find some healthy way of doing that other than eating. If you don’t, then the need will become so strong that you’ll cave and eat.
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