Understanding and overcoming emotional eating

There are a lot of misconceptions about emotional eating. Many people think that overeating is a sign of weakness or lack of willpower, but it’s actually much more complicated than that. There are many reasons why someone might turn to food for comfort and support – including depression, boredom, stress, sadness, loneliness and even anger. The good news is that emotional eating doesn’t have to be an ongoing problem. Understanding what’s going on and how to turn things around can help you overcome your emotional eating habits.

Understand what emotional eating is

Emotional eating is often a way to deal with difficult feelings such as stress, anger and sadness. But using food in this way can actually make these feelings worse. Many people eat when they’re feeling down because it brings them momentary relief – but soon after, guilt sets in. Once you’ve stuffed yourself with junk food, you might feel even worse than before. It’s important to realise that emotional eating doesn’t do anything to help you get rid of the difficult feelings, and this is essential in overcoming the urge to eat when you’re stressed or sad.

Get to the root of the problem

Before you can begin to overcome emotional eating, you need to figure out what’s causing it in the first place. Everyone has certain things that trigger their urge to eat. Triggers can be related to people, events, emotions or activities.

Therefore, you need to think about what’s going on in your life that is causing you to turn to food for comfort. You can do so by taking a moment to think about what’s going on for you and how you’re feeling when you get the urge to eat when you aren’t hungry. For instance, is there a lot of stress and pressure at work or home? Or if you’re feeling lonely, eating in front of the TV may be one of your triggers. It’s important to become aware of these triggers so you can manage them.

Take some time to think about what might be making you unhappy, then sit down with a pen and paper and make a list. You might also want to try keeping a journal so that you can track your moods over time. This way you can see what sorts of things trigger you, and how these feelings change over time.

Develop a plan to overcome emotional eating

Once you’ve identified what triggers your urge to overeat, you can develop some strategies to help you overcome the problem.

First of all, it’s important to recognise when you’re hungry and when your body really needs food. You may think that hunger pangs are an urge to eat – but they actually feel more like a gnawing or empty feeling. When your body is truly hungry, it’s not easy to ignore these signals and you don’t tend to crave junk food. It also helps to eat slowly and be more aware of your food, tasting each bite and putting your fork or spoon down between bites.

You should also avoid getting into the habit of eating in front of the TV or having a snack while browsing online. These distractions make it easy to mindlessly eat, and you may also forget about how much you’ve eaten if you’re distracted. Being more mindful when you’re eating can help reduce your emotional eating habits as well as teach you how to recognise when your body is truly hungry.

Additionally, making a list of delicious, healthy foods that you actually enjoy can help keep you from turning to junk food when those cravings hit. Having a stockpile of healthy snacks on hand can give you a ready alternative to the junk foods in your cupboards and fridge. And, if there are certain people or situations that trigger your urge to eat emotionally, you can make a plan for how to deal with them before they get the better of you. This can be done by creating different, healthy habits to comfort yourself.

Learn to comfort yourself in a different way

Here are some ideas on how you can comfort and take care of yourself in healthier ways:

  • Talk it out: If you’re feeling stressed, talk to a friend or family member about what’s going on. Find someone who will listen and support you when you need them most.
  • Get outside: Spending time in nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Take a walk, sit by the lake or enjoy a sunny day outside with your dog – doing things like these can make you feel more relaxed and at ease.
  • Make time for you: Turn off your phone and take some time out for yourself every day. Read a book, treat yourself to a bath, do something you love. You deserve a little time to relax and recharge.
  • Meditate: Practicing mindfulness through meditation can help you avoid emotional eating by teaching you how to stay in the moment.
  • Do another activity: If you’re feeling bored, switching to another activity can help. Visit friends or take yourself off to do something fun.

These can all help you redirect your thoughts towards something else so that emotional eating is less likely to occur.

Get some support

If you struggle with emotional eating, it’s important to ask for help from trusted friends and family members. They can support you and keep you accountable as you begin to implement changes in your lifestyle. It can also be helpful to get some advice and insights from an expert. You may want to talk to a counsellor about your triggers and underlying problems that are making you feel unhappy.

Alternatively, if you’re really struggling with emotional eating, you can work with an Overeaters Anonymous sponsor, who can help you change the way you deal with uncomfortable emotions. A sponsor can in fact help you create an emotional eating plan that works for you so you can establish helpful strategies. If you’re not sure where to find a support group in your area, check out Overeaters Anonymous.