Getting to the Root of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating, sometimes calls stress eating, is eating in response to how you feel, especially when you’re not hungry. You may have heard the phrase, “eating your feelings.” When you eat emotionally, it means that your emotions – instead of your body – dictate when and how much you eat.

Get this: Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is through emotional eating.

That’s a big deal! But, it also shows that emotional eating happens to even the best of us. Emotional eating provides a momentary sense of satisfaction and pleasure when you feel something you don’t want to feel. It is a way of suppressing feelings that may be unpleasant. In a way, it has a numbing or even distracting effect, because it’s far more fun to chow down on something warm and gooey than to address what’s bothering us.

There are 5 steps you can take to get to the root of emotional eating and start to put an end to it as a way of comforting yourself.

1. Don’t Suppress Your Emotions

Eating is and always has been an emotional process, and we often take those positive associations with food and emotions and use them as our only tool to feel better. Often, we eat to regain happiness, or soothe ourselves. We may also use food as rewards. Understanding what drives emotional eating can help us take steps to change it.

To get to the bottom of your emotional eating, invite your feelings to the surface and listen to your emotions. If you allow yourself to feel, you will discover what you truly want instead of using food as a way to numb your emotions. Try keeping a journal of what you eat, when, and your mood. Over time, you’ll see trends and be better acquainted with your triggers for emotional eating. You may also change your eating behaviors if you are writing down your food and mood, as the awareness can keep you in the moment.

2. Eat Mindfully

Eating mindfully is all about taking it slow and enjoying your food for what it is. Learning how to eat mindfully is one of the most effective tools for a positive connection with food. With such busy lifestyles and so many distractions, many of us are guilty of “inhaling” our food without much pleasure, just so that we can fill up quickly and move onto our next task.

So how do you eat mindfully? Start with taking it slow. Before you eat, take a moment to use your senses. Taking time to use your senses heightens your awareness of what you are eating and allows your body time to enjoy the process. In between mouthfuls, take nice deep breaths so that your body can have time to digest in between bites and you can enjoy the food.

3. Discover Your Triggers

By finding out what triggers your emotional eating, you will help your movement toward success. When it comes to eating, there are many forms of triggers, so it can be hard to really dig deep into what your trigger might be. For some, it might be boredom. For others, it could be stress or anxiety. The best way to figure out your triggers is at the very first instance of feeling like you need to reach for something you shouldn’t – stop for a moment and see what is happening in your surroundings or within your emotions to work out what that trigger was. This will help you determine if your hunger is based on emotions or physical hunger.

4. Finding Healthy Substitutes

Once you have a good understanding of the emotional side of your triggers, work on creating new habits to replace the comfort food brings you (like taking a walk, watching videos on YouTube, calling your BFF) or have healthy substitutes for your favorite emotional eating treats.

Here are some examples of substitutes: If you reach for chocolate, stock up on raw almonds with cacao chocolate chips. If you love soda, grab a can of soda water and add a squeeze of lime or lemon. If you love chips, have carrot sticks and celery cut and ready. If you reach for ice cream, make a big batch of fresh fruit smoothie blended and frozen into popsicles.

Without a doubt, the biggest factor here is removing any and all trigger foods from your surroundings. If your desk drawer has candy, mints, chocolate, and cookies – throw it out. Yes, it may seem like a waste, but you’ll also open up space to create a healthier environment for your emotions.

5. Don't Restrict Yourself

The final step to getting your emotional eating under control is to avoid restrictive diets and styles of eating. When you restrict your diet, your body will suddenly crave what it is lacking (salt, sugar, fat, carbs), and your mind will go haywire thinking about those foods. You don’t stand a chance of being able to cope with emotional situations when you’re like this. Your body will require balance when it comes to eating so that you are better equipped to deal with triggers.

When you notice and can identify what you are feeling, you have a better chance of pausing and cutting off emotional eating behaviors before they happen. Be patient with yourself and just keep getting in touch with your emotions and what you do to deal with them.

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