The Secrets to Conquering Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism we use to deny feelings of stress or anxiety. Whenever we are discontent, we seek comfort in food. When we were young, our parents urged us to "have a cookie" and feel better. Now, we soothe our inner child's emotional letdowns in the same manner.

Eating for emotional gratification results in overeating, weight gain, health problems and more anxiety, which creates another cycle of emotional eating to assuage the self-induced stress we have created with our unhealthy habit.

How do we know if we are emotional eaters? By taking a reality check each time we reach for something to eat. Are we actually hungry, or are we reacting to boredom, depression, loneliness, anxiety, anger or frustration? Only when we practice self-awareness and examine our emotions can we break the habit of burying our feelings and eating our way into a false sense of contentment.

Some methods to conquer the unhealthy habit of emotional eating:

Keep a food journal

Record the food item, time, place and circumstances surrounding each occasion food is ingested. Include meals, snacks, impulse eating and liquids consumed.

Often we are surprised to discover how many more calories we are consuming than the amount required to keep our bodies nourished and healthy.

Identify eating patterns

By consistently paying attention to our eating habits, we will see patterns of overindulgence emerging. Perhaps we eat after a stressful day at work, or after a confrontation with a friend or loved one. Perhaps there is one particular comfort food that we repeatedly indulge. The more knowledgeable we become about our eating idiosyncrasies, the more likely we can overcome them.

Avoid temptation

Keeping the refrigerator stocked with a variety of healthy, easily accessible food choices and eliminating sugary snacks with empty calories from the shopping list will ensure that when we do succumb to a food craving, we will not significantly undermine our weight control efforts.

Make eating a solitary activity

Don't simultaneously engage in other activities while eating, such as watching television or reading the newspaper. Designate one area for meals and snacking and do not deviate. Even for a snack, set a place at the table, sit down and concentrate on the act of eating. Chew slowly and consciously and wait 20 minutes before having another serving.

That is about how long it takes for the stomach to notify the brain that it is satisfied. True hunger will abate in that allotted time. If the desire to continue eating persists, then it is time to take our emotional temperature and treat the craving with a distracting activity.

Plan alternate activities

Once we have identified our emotional eating triggers, we can substitute one of the following activities in lieu of overeating or bingeing our cares away.

  • Call a friend
  • Take a nap
  • Go for a brisk walk
  • Write in a journal

The secret to overcoming emotional eating is to keep our hands and our minds busy when cravings strike and to reward our positive efforts and comfort ourselves in times of stress with pleasures other than food. A new blouse, a good book or a ticket to a favorite show will go much further to enhance our health and well being than medicating ourselves with something to eat.

Food will no longer be used as a coping mechanism but will be reinstated to its rightful purpose of nourishing our bodies and keeping us healthy.