Put simply, emotional eating is turning to food for comfort, relief from stress, or a rewarding feeling. It implies turning to food for a reason other than satisfying hunger.
An emotional eater feels he or she has no power over food cravings. As a result, they often find weight loss extremely difficult.
Three Things You Can Do
Step One - Why did you eat that?
As we have seen, emotional eating involves eating in response to an emotional trigger. A great strategy for overcoming emotional eating is to track your feelings and identify your triggers.
Perhaps it's feelings of loneliness, jealousy, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness, or depression that create an emotional void that, one feels, only food can fill. Of course, emotional eating can also be linked to positive feelings, too, such as during a celebration, a romance, or feeling grateful.
A food journal can help you keep track of any emotional triggers to eating. Write down what you ate, how much, and how you felt as you ate it or just before you ate it. Were you really hungry? Write it down! Was it just for comfort? Write it down! Self-awareness is key!
You will start to notice patterns emerging between what you feel and what you choose to eat. The information you gain from this step will help you find a replacement or coping activity (Step #2).
Step Two - What can you do instead?
Now that you've explored why you're eating emotionally, you can start to make better choices by choosing different activities to do when trying to cope with those emotions.
For example, feeling stressed? Instead of chomping through a bag of chips, why not take several rounds around the block to clear your mind!
Feeling lonely? Text or even make the effort to call a close friend or family member.
Feeling stressed? Have a feel-good music playlist saved and handy. You can even do some quick exercises to the tunes until the urge to eat goes away.
Feeling tired and fatigued? Don't confuse tiredness with hunger! It often does happen. Instead, getting adequate sleep at night, and possibly a nap during the day, may help boost your energy.
Bottom line, find ways to cope without food.
Other alternative activities include reading, jogging, meditating, playing games, doing housework or organizing your drawers, or writing a letter or email.
Step Three - Be Mindful!
Mindfully eat. Be concious of what is about to enter your body. Savor the flavor. Focus on the texture, the ingredients, and the aspect of the food. Use all of your senses as you eat. Take smaller bites and possibly even put down your eating utensil as you chew so that you are not tempted to rush into the next bite.
Take 5. That is, take 5 seconds or 5 breaths before each meal to help you relax and think before you bite.
Also, be mindful of your true hunger and full signals. Remember what those feel like? Eat only when you are actually hungry. Stop when you start to feel the satiety cues.
Managing stress and dealing with the feelings that trigger eating may require the help of a qualified mental health professional. They are great resources for learning ways to cope more effectively with various feelings, including stress and negative emotions.