Day 11. Emotional Eating
How to Conquer Emotional Eating and Why It's So Important
When you feel a strong emotion, do you ever reach for food as a response? Emotional eating (eating in response to emotion instead of hunger) is a common cause of weight gain.
If you want to lose weight, improve your diet, and live a healthier lifestyle, you need to examine how your emotions and your eating intersect. We don’t always make the connection between eating and our feelings. But when we do, we can understand what drives emotional eating and take steps to change it.
Understanding Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is when people use food as a reward or coping mechanism instead of using it to satisfy hunger. Maybe you’ve been there before - eating a pint of ice cream after a breakup, polishing off a bag of chips while working on a stressful project, or making a snack just because you’re bored. Emotional eating is common and completely understandable. However, if it happens often, it can have a negative impact on your weight, health, and overall wellbeing.
Eating emotionally isn’t just associated with negative feelings. Maybe you overindulge when you’re happy and celebrating. Perhaps you’re used to rewarding yourself with a treat when you finish a task, or feel comfort when you eat a large portion of a recipe your mom used to make.
Regardless of the cause, emotional eating has consequences. By unlearning emotional eating patterns and putting new thoughts in their place, you can make sure the consequences of your diet are good ones.
Rethinking Emotional Eating
A 2012 study examined the different ways people ate in response to a negative experience. The results showed that people who were taught to regulate their emotions instead of suppressing them were less likely to use food as a way to cope.1 If you find yourself turning to food in response to emotion, learning to rethink your response can help you get back in control.
Rethinking emotional eating starts with an awareness of what’s going on. The next time you find yourself about to eat for an emotional reason, push your imaginary pause button. Give yourself a chance to go through these three steps to find out if you’re hungry or trying to fill an emotional need:
1. Think. Ask yourself questions. What are you about to do? How are you feeling emotionally? What would the consequences be if you continued what you started? What would the consequences be if you chose another route?
2. Decide. You are smart. Weigh the consequences and choose a smarter solution.
3. Act. Take control of the situation. Be more aware and replace old patterns of emotional eating with newly learned healthy behaviors.
Make it Happen
Emotional eating can stall your progress and keep you from reaching your goals. Commit to changing how you approach eating.
The Challenge: For the remainder of your GetFit21 Challenge, be conscious of why you’re eating. Go through the three steps listed above before eating to make sure you’re eating for the right reasons.
The more practice you put into recognizing and stopping emotional eating, the easier it will become to avoid it altogether.
Your Next Steps
1. Think Before You Eat: Before you eat something, check in with yourself to decide if you’re really hungry. Go through the three steps listed above. If you’re reaching for food in response to emotion, consider addressing the real problem. On the other hand, if you’re just bored, consider doing something else instead: go for a short walk, fold a load of laundry, even sing a song you like if it gets your mind off eating! If you decide that what you’re feeling is true hunger, and it’s time to eat according to your 4-4-12 plan, then enjoy a filling, nutritious meal. Review the lesson on the 4-4-12 method for more tips on recognizing and dealing with hunger.
2. Identify the Triggers that Lead to Emotional Eating: Why do you eat emotionally? Do you eat when you’re stressed out, sad, or angry? Do you eat out of boredom? Is eating in certain situations, such as in front of the TV or on your drive home from work, a habit you’ve developed over the years? Do you eat to reward yourself when you’re feeling good? Get to know your triggers. When you do, the next time you’re in that situation or feeling that emotion you’ll be more prepared to find a way to cope that isn’t related to food.
3. Find Other Ways to Acknowledge Your Feelings: Just because it’s not healthy to address your feelings with food doesn’t mean you should ignore them. In fact, the opposite is true! Write down better ways to respond to negative emotions. Here are a few examples:
1. Taut, D., Renner B., & Baban, A. (2012). Reappraise the Situation but Express Your Emotions: Im- pact of Emotion Regulation Strategies on ad libitum Food Intake. Frontier Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/ fpsyg.2012.00359
• If you eat when you’re stressed, try taking a brisk walk or having a good laugh over your favorite TV show instead.
• If you eat when you’re sad or lonely, talk with someone you love or play with your pet.
• If you eat to treat yourself, find something else to enjoy. Take a long bubble bath, listen to
your favorite music, or treat yourself to another fun activity you enjoy.
• If you eat when you’re bored, immerse yourself in a good book or your favorite hobby.
Think Long Term
Eliminating emotional eating is an important part of a long-term healthy lifestyle. Use these tips to keep eating for the right reasons.
• Research and practice mindful eating, the practice of paying close attention and fully experiencing the foods you eat.
• Examine how you feel when you’re emotionally hungry versus truly hungry. Track the physical sensations you experience to better spot emotional cravings.
• Enjoy the foods you love in moderation. For example, if you love to reach for chocolate to soothe bad feelings, enjoy a small piece once a week. There’s nothing inherently wrong with eating chocolate - the goal is to fully enjoy it for the right reasons.
• Forgive yourself for slipups: At some point you will slip up when it comes to emotional eating. Forgive yourself, then use the mistake as a chance to grow. What factors led you to eat when you weren’t hungry? What can you do to act differently in the future? Learn what you can from the experience, then leave it behind you.