Do you find yourself running towards the fridge after a long day at work, fight with your spouse or in between TV commercials? We all cope with our emotions in different ways. Some of us draw, some go to the gym, and some find comfort in food…
The following questions may give you an indication whether or not you are an emotional eater:
- I eat when I’m feeling emotional (anxious, stressed, depressed, sad, bored), even when I’m not physically hungry.
- I eat when I’m lonely, even when I’m not physically hungry.
- I can’t stop eating when I feel full.
- I use food to help me soothe my negative emotions.
- Does your hunger feel sudden and urgent?
- Does your hunger cause very specific cravings?
- Do you feel guilty after eating something less healthy?
If you have answered yes to any of the previous statements, you tend to use food as a coping mechanism to negative feelings. This relationship with food is not necessarily harmful unless it becomes your only way to control emotions.
Emotional eating vs emotional overeating
We all go towards a big bowl of ice cream or big glass of wine once in a while as a result of a stressful day. Emotional eating is normal and it happens to the best of us. But, it’s only normal when it’s not the only coping mechanism we use. We can have a bad day, go for a walk, listen to music and still decide to eat a small chocolate bar.
On the other hand, emotional overeating is when that small chocolate bar is the only way to get short-term satisfaction, and suddenly that chocolate bar isn’t enough and becomes 2, 3, or 4 chocolate bars.
How to regain control of your emotional eating
1. Reject the diet mentality
For many of us, we turn to diets whenever we gain weight from emotional overeating. We restrict ourselves for a short time, but eventually give into temptation and instead of having 1 cookie, we have 4. We then feel guilty, go back to restriction and the cycle starts again!
We need to understand that diets don’t work. If it didn’t work in the past, it’s most likely because of the diet itself and not your lack of willpower. Most diets focus on the quality of food and making better choices, which is usually not the issue for emotional eaters. We need to recognize the negative effects diets have on our bodies like increased cravings and binges and loss of muscle mass and water weight instead of fat loss.
2. Identify your eating triggers and change what you can change
I had a client tell me she ate less when she was watching a show on Netflix vs when she watches it on TV. Why? She would get bored during commercials and automatically go to the kitchen and have a snack. Was she hungry? Probably not. She went to have a snack to deal with her boredom, and sadly it only gave her temporary relief. You need to identify your trigger, the reason why you are eating. Once you do, find a way to change your thinking or your environment to be a healthier one! For example, my client now watches her shows on Netflix, registered for an exercise class in the evening and prepped an herbal tea so it is the first thing she sees when she steps in the kitchen.
3. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full
This sounds a lot easier than it is, but at first, you may not trust your body to tell you when and how much to eat. Do you remember the last time you were truly hungry? Try to rate your hunger and fullness on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being ravenous and 10 so full you’re sick to your stomach. Ideally, you would like to be somewhere in the middle. Not sure if you ate too much? Take a little break and reassess after 10 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat again – the food isn’t going anywhere!
These are only a few of many strategies to cope with emotional eating, but these simple strategies can be very powerful. For more tips, read here.
If you can’t seem to regain control, speak to a registered dietitian or psychotherapist specialized in emotional and binge eating.