As some point or another, we are ALL guilty of emotional eating. Eating has a way of comforting unpleasant feelings, whether it is brought on by a stressful day of work, a bad break-up, hormonal changes or simply boredom.
If we aren’t careful, we may begin to rely on emotional eating to soothe bad feeling. If it becomes a habit, emotional eating can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss, if you are not aware of it. That said, don’t despair—there are ways to stop emotional eating and prevent it from sabotaging your results for good. Here are four ways:
Recognize The Signs
Emotional eating can be triggered by stress, anger, sadness, anxiety or even boredom. One of the biggest culprits is stress. Stress causes an increase in cortisol, which can impede your body from processing carbohydrates and can also increase cravings for sugary foods. It can also be brought on by changes in hormone levels, such as during PMS.
A sure-fire sign of emotional eating is when you reach for food even though you are not physically hungry. If you are regularly eating with less than three hours between meals, consider whether your “hunger” is real or a result of feelings that you are grappling with or where you are in your monthly cycle.
Tip – Use a Food Journal. Start evaluating and assessing your hunger. Use a food journal to capture where, when and what you eat and how you are feeling. Notice if there are any patterns. Are you physically hungry, low in energy or mindlessly reaching for food? Do you feel guilty after you eat? Are you craving anything specific: sugary, salty, crunchy or creamy? By tracking your behaviors, you will quickly be able to identify what is triggering emotional eating and squash it with a healthy alternative or more productive coping strategy.
Tip – Switch it Up. Craving something crunchy and salty? Instead of reaching for a bag of chips, try a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter on a few celery sticks! Craving something sweet and creamy? Instead of ice cream, try a serving of non-fat, zero calorie Greek yogurt combined with a few of your favorite berries, a packet of Stevia and a teaspoon of vanilla! Craving chocolate or candy, try a piece of fruit!
Workout and Meditate
Once you recognize that you are emotional eating, the next step it to replace that habit with a new healthier one that can change your mindset and your focus. By far, the best way to combat emotional eating is to head to the gym! Working out reduces stress by releasing feel good endorphins that actually decrease hunger and boost energy—not to mention burn calories.
Another way to shift your focus from food is to try meditation and simple breathing techniques. Breathing exercises can slow down your heart rate, relax the mind and take your focus off of food.
Tip – Stick to a Schedule. A great way to keep your mind calm and your emotions under control is to have a clear and defined schedule and a set of goals. Schedule workouts, yoga and even a little meditation and downtime for you.
Stop Depriving Yourself
Many fitness-minded individuals might be considered chronic dieters—following strict clean diets during competition or bikini season and then rewarding themselves with huge cheat meals because of “good behavior.” These cheats can lead to guilt, which leads to more emotional eating. In addition, dieting can deprive a person of their favorite foods. So, when one hits an emotional wall, they are more likely to just give in and binge on the things they have been craving the most.
Tip – Incorporate Foods You Love. Fill your diet with healthy foods you enjoy eating and also incorporate treats into your diet more regularly in small portions. Making a food off-limits completely can oftentimes just make it something you can’t stop thinking about and eventually indulge in when the going gets tough. That said, I don’t recommend keeping treats in your house, in case of a moment of weakness. Rather, buy portions on an as needed basis or go out and enjoy them.
Tip – Try a New Reward. Instead of getting into the routine of rewarding yourself with food, start rewarding yourself with other treats, like a trip to the spa, a new workout top or a new pair of shoes. Other ways to reward yourself: try a different workout from your regular routine or a different activity like indoor rock climbing. It can be fun, take your mind off of food and stimulate your muscles and your mind in a completely different manner.
Manage Emotional Eating
Be sure your diet is in check. Often, we crave foods as a result of deficiencies in our diet. If carbohydrates are too low, energy and blood sugar levels will dip, along with serotonin levels. This will cause emotions to be unstable and cravings to soar sky high—a dangerous combination for someone seeking to avoid emotional eating.
Also, make sure you get plenty of protein, at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. This satiating food can reduce hunger between meals and help keep blood sugar balanced. And, be sure to eat every three hours or so, which will sustain blood glucose and help keep your metabolism moving along!
Tip – Convenient Healthy Options. Have healthy snacks available that are ready to grab at anytime, such as non-fat Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, whole-grain rice cakes or even pre-made protein pancakes! When there is something healthy and tasty available, you are less likely to go out of your way to get something sugary and fatty.