Stressed Out? Tricks to Avoid Emotional Eating
Eating can be a complicated thing. It’s more than something we do to give our bodies vital nutrients. We can turn to certain foods to buffer ourselves against certain emotions: Anger, Sadness, and Boredom. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions; we stuff down our feelings and use the temporary food ‘high’ to block pain or emotional discomfort.
We also know better. In the long run, we still feel bad and we know that we shouldn’t eat for purely emotional reasons. But that knowledge isn’t enough to stop what feels like an addiction to food and eating. So where do you start if you want to stop eating emotionally? The first step is awareness, recognising that you do eat emotionally – and WHY. Each time you reach for foods (or even a craving come on), ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or am I just responding to something else that is happening?”
If you learn to recognise the emotional triggers that by choosing leads to eating, you can also learn to stop emotional eating before it starts by choosing healthier ways to deal with your feelings. Try these alternatives to eating that can help you deal with three of the most common emotions.
Stress and Anger
Stress is part of life and can create the same physiological responses as anger, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. If you are eating as a response to anger and/or stress, some of these activities will help you calm down.
- Walk away from a stressful situation. Take time out from an argument. Try writing down what you want to say to the person and revisit the issue later when you’re both calm down.
- Take a deep breath. Deep breathing has been shown to reduce blood pressure and promote feelings of calmness.
- Exercise. It’s a known stress buster and you may even find that it helps you deal with anger. Go for a short walk outside, hit some tennis balls, or push around some heavy weights at the gym – these are all constructive ways to deal with stress and anger.
- Listen to music. We can all think of some songs that calm us down. Make a special CD or playlist that you can turn to when you need it.
- Prevent stress from happening again. If mornings are so busy that you’re barely able to get out the door on time, put some pre-planning into practice so that you don’t have to rush or feel stressed each morning.
Sadness and Loneliness
These emotions can go hand in hand: loneliness can result in sadness, and sad people can often become withdrawn. If you’re spending a lot of time alone, it’s easy to turn to comfort foods or soothe yourself with foods that you associate with happier memories. Try to replace these uncomfortable emotions with a positive action. Do different activities. You’ve already learnt to use food as a pick-me-up. It’s time to learn other activities that you can use in the same way.
- Exercise boosts mood and releases endorphins. So try anything that keeps you moving and thinking about anything other than food.
- Play with your pet. Animals have unconditional love and promote health and emotional wellness too. If you don’t have a pet, volunteer at a local shelter such as SPCA, which will expose you to both animals and more social interaction to combat your loneliness.
- Write a letter to a friend and family. Reaching out to friends and family members, even if you haven’t talked to them in a while, will remind you of all the wonderful people in your life who care about you. Spark up an old friendship.
- Volunteer. People who volunteer feel better about themselves, and it’s hard to feel down on yourself when you’re helping others.
- Post on the message boards. Even if you feel like you don’t have a friend in the world, there is always someone out there who can help pick you up when you’re feeling down.
We have never had more in terms of entertainment: hundreds of TV channels, online social networks, and movement sensing video games. But we still complain that we’re bored. We resort to eating as entertainment – like having popcorn at a movie. Find boredom busting activities that don’t involve eating:
- Focus on what you eat. Don’t do anything else while you’re eating – no snacking while you’re on the computer and no sweets when you’re watching TV. Look out for mindless overeating and put a stop to it.
- Develop a new hobby. Even without cash to spare, you can learn to knit or join a local book club. By scheduling these activities regularly, you’ll have plenty to do – and practice! Make a list of all the things you ever wanted to learn, from cooking to speaking a new language, and start investigating how to get started.
- Learn to read. Of course you can read, but how often do you do it? Reading is a great emotional escape. Don’t have time? You only need five minutes – carry your book around and sneak a peak in your downtime. Read just before bed to help you relax too.
- Play a game. Remember how fun board and card games can be? Some even take hours! Bring out a fun game for your next party or set up a game night with your best friend. If you’re by yourself, crossword puzzles are good alternatives.
- Re-connect with friends and loved ones. Some say that we’re bored in this digital age because we’re missing real-life interaction and friendships. After all, you can post on your friend’s Facebook wall or text/call your friends and family members anytime. Make a point to write letters, send personal emails, make phone calls and meet up with the important people in your life.
Put as many of these into practice as possible, make each a habit over time and you’re on the right path to squashing emotional eating. Don’t worry about failure. Accept that we all make mistakes and move on. Continue to track your progress in your journal and distract yourself in a positive way, and the day will come when you’ve left behind your emotional eating once and for all.