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One of the most damaging things that can happen to your dieting plans is when emotional eating kicks in. It can be very difficult to control. Anyone suffering from stress, anxiety or depression will be more susceptible to this, but most of us will experience it at some point in our lives.
So, what is emotional eating?
Sometimes called comfort or tension eating, emotional eating is when we crave food as a means of coping with an emotional issue of some kind. It doesn’t really matter what triggers this – it could be work related, a relationship issue, something not going quite to plan, for example. We find ourselves eating to give us an emotional lift, not because we are physically hungry. The issue that is causing this situation is never addressed; the food is used to ease the stressful emotions and make us feel better.
As a result we tend to eat the so-called comfort foods, those that are inherently bad for us but provide that ‘feel good’ factor when we tuck in. They are usually fattening with a lot of calories and with a high sugar, salt or fat content. They make us feel good for a while, but the stressful issue is still there, and we can feel guilty afterwards about eating so badly.
These, mainly carbohydrate foods, can cause a blood sugar spike, which in turn can lead to overeating, which can be difficult to stop. You can sabotage your weight-loss efforts by consuming too many calories and throwing your diet plans out of kilter.
With stress generally, you need to manage it. Discussing the issues that are upsetting you with your spouse, partner, best friend or work colleagues, can help especially if the matters are ongoing, and not just a ‘one-off’. For more sensitive or personal issues your own doctor can advise on therapy to help you cope with your stressors.
But you still need to cope with it all at the time, without resorting to binge eating
When you eat because you feel physical hunger you will stop eating when you are full. With emotional hunger you tend to eat far more than your body needs at the time.
When you can recognize that you are eating for reasons other than just hunger, you can learn to resist the urge to eat by taking some simple steps to stop yourself.
Firstly, recognize your emotional eating triggers. What feelings make you turn to food – stress, boredom, anger, loneliness, anxiety, tension, depression, or fatigue?
Then manage your stress another way than by eating.
What to do instead of emotional eating
Relax and stay calm – OK this is not so easy otherwise you wouldn’t be stressing, but somehow you have to distance yourself from whatever it is that upsets you.
As soon as possible after a stressful incident, and when you are tempted to start eating, you need to distance yourself from it and to clear your mind. Replace that need to eat with something else.
You can do this by:
- Switching your thinking to something different and concentrate on it for a few minutes.
- Take yourself off for a walk – exercise helps burn off the stress hormones released in your body – or just keep moving around. At work, take a short break – a brisk walk around the floor to re-oxygenate yourself.
- Breathe slowly and deeply, filling then emptying your lungs completely. You can do this anywhere.
- If you are with your ‘significant other’ (assuming they are not the cause of your situation) have a hug.
- If the urge to eat is strong, down a glass of cold water. This tends to make you feel full up and it re-hydrates you as well.
- At home take a hot bath or shower, or listen to some calming music.
- Acknowledge that you are eating for the wrong reason.
You can take control of your emotional eating and curb your food cravings by following healthy lifestyle habits.
Some emotional eating tips
- Start your day with a meal. Always, always eat a breakfast
- Only eat during the day when you are physically hungry
- Avoid junk food
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol, coffee and sugars
- Snack during the day with fruits, nuts and seeds
- Drinking black tea can help reduce cortisol levels – the stress hormone that can disrupt your digestive system.
- Get a good night’s sleep
Using food to blot out the causes of stress is a short term fix and doomed to failure.
Breaking free from emotional eating is necessary for your general health and well-being, as well as for you to keep to your weight loss plans.