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Tips for Overcoming Emotional Eating

Jul 27, 2016

Woman Eating Ice Cream

We’ve all been there. One minute we’re the picture of self-control and smart eating – high protein, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains to round it out. Then, as is bound to happen, life tosses a stressor our way. Whether it’s an air conditioner that decides to go haywire on a record-heat day, or a daughter that lashes out, or even a disagreement with a friend or spouse, somehow our dietary discipline flies out the window, and before we know it we’re elbow-deep in cookie dough ice cream, with an arsenal of food wrappers littering the table. We end up feeling sick, discouraged, and upset at our lack of discipline.  Emotional eating is real, and it’s more common than you might think. In a recent survey, almost 40% of the adults polled had responded to stress by eating in the past month, and half of those adults reported doing so on a weekly basis or more often. In another recent survey, this one internet-based, of 17,000 people who labeled themselves as “failed dieters,” nearly all of them had relapsed because of emotional eating. While these statistics might feel overwhelming, there are many who have overcome their own emotional eating. Want to be one of those stats? You can. Read below for some tips.

  • Recognize, name, and welcome your emotions. When you’re upset, food provides a temporary numbing and escape from your feelings. It softens the hard edges of your emotions. In fact, the top foods often stress-eaten by women, cookies, ice cream, and chocolate, actually lower your stress hormone (cortisol), and increase your feel-good hormone (serotonin). Instead of keeping emotions at bay, allow them in. Work to properly identify each emotion, and then welcome them. Be kind to yourself – it’s okay to feel hurt, jealous, angry, or sad. Allow yourself to realize that you don’t have to overeat to protect yourself from your feelings.
  • Keep your pleasure at a priority. Keep up the little indulgences that make you happy. Wear those extra-soft socks, scent your bath with your favorite oils, plant flowers and herbs that you love. Binge eating is often an attempt to feel pleasure. Let your body know that it doesn’t have to derive pleasure from food alone. 
  • Find a few substitutions. Did you know that taking even a 5-minute walk can reduce anxiety and stress, and even raises serotonin levels (no cupcake needed)? Or that a few minutes of mindful stretching releases endorphins? Ditto for calling a loved one for a quick chat. You can create your own substitutions (we like the idea of doing a quickie circuit of a few exercises – say, 10 jumping jacks, 10 sit-ups, 10 squats – until the urge to binge passes). Then, jot them down and place them strategically around your kitchen where you’ll see them the next time you head for the chips. Raising your heart rate, even for just a few minutes, can also help your brain to process your emotions or problems more effectively. Plus, you’ll be much more energized afterwards – unlike how you feel after an overload of sugar or salt. 

It may take some practice, and even a few failed attempts, but you can do it.  The best part is this: come meal time, when you’re actually hungry and more likely to make the smart, healthy choices you’ve become accustomed to, you’ll be so proud of yourself for not succumbing to emotional eating.