Emotional eating involves eating in order to cope with life’s stressors. We tend to eat more of the wrong foods when we are under a great deal of stress and we eat in order to cope with both the negative and positive influences in our lives. When we eat emotionally, we make bad food choices; we eat in order to feel better. There are a lot of stress-reduction techniques that can help you cope without overeating.
For many emotional overeating is not simply an occasional occurrence, but in fact a chronic condition that can have devastating effects on well-being, self-esteem, body image, and physical health.
The first step in combating this type of dysfunctional coping skill is awareness. Recognize when you are eating emotionally and try to understand which emotions are behind your poor eating.
- Do you eat mindlessly when under increased stress, or when feeling anger, sadness, despair, boredom, or even happiness?
- Is your eating a way to cope with negative feelings?
- Are your food choices tending toward junk food rather than healthy foods?
- Do you binge eat?
- Do you often feel guilt after eating?
All of these are signs that you are eating to curb or reinforce emotions rather than eating because you are hungry.
Because emotional eating often leads to poor food choices, overeating and obesity, it pays to recognize these connections and try to find coping skills that will take the place of emotional overeating.
When you arm yourself with healthy coping skills versus food, and you begin to utilize them, it will provide you with better choices, instill healthier habits, and eliminate the need to open up the refrigerator for some peace of mind and comfort.
Better Coping Skills
There are healthier coping skills to ease the pain of negative emotions than just overeating. Here are a few you might try:
- Keep a journal about your feelings. When you journal about your feelings, you tend to be more clear about what’s going on in your life that might be triggering the overeating. The negative feelings tend to dissipate when you write them down and process them on paper.
- Try exercise. When you are stressed out or feeling negative emotions, try taking a walk or cycling a bit before deciding to eat. Even if the exercise doesn’t curb your habit of emotional eating, you will burn calories and raise your metabolic rate so you will be less likely to gain weight from your eating habits.
- Take the time to meditate when you are under stress. Focusing on your breathing and relaxing your muscles for just fifteen minutes can refresh you and can lead to less stress in your mind. In many cases, you will come out of a meditative rest without the sudden urge to eat that you had before you meditated. Meditation can keep your mind sharp and less focused on the stressors that are pushing you to overeat.
- When you eat, eat slowly. Even if you feel you must eat to dissipate negative emotions, take your time while eating. When you make time to eat slowly, you get the benefit of the food reward and give your satiety signals a chance to keep up and let you know when you are full. You will be less likely to overeat when you eat slowly.
- Keep only healthy foods in the house. If you must cope by eating, make sure that the only choices you have immediately on hand are healthy choices. One of the hallmarks of emotional eating is irresistible and urging cravings for junk food that come out of nowhere, and so when you have your favorite junk food in the house it makes it much more difficult to resist. Reinforce your commitment to change by cleaning out the cupboards. You can dissipate anger by crunching on carrots in the same way as if you are crunching on potato chips. The habit is the same but you make healthier food choices in order to cope with your stressors.
- Pick up the phone to talk to someone. When you are pouring out your stressors to a second party, you will not have time to eat and you will be able to dissipate the strength of your feelings without eating. Talking to someone who listens intently will help you feel better without having to eat something. It is sometimes better to be filled with kindness and compassion rather than with empty calories.
I hope this has given you some ways that you can cope with your emotional overeating. Let us know if these tips have worked for you, or if you have other coping skills that you’d like to share with others.