Have you ever consumed an entire pizza out of total boredom? Or drowned your sorrows in a pint of ice cream? If so, you’ve indulged in emotional eating – an unhealthy (and even downright dangerous) physical and mental affliction.
Emotional eating is dangerous because it doesn’t fix any problems – it simply allows you to stuff emotions down with the food without ever dealing with them.
This can cause serious depression or anger issues later on, plus the mindless consumption of empty calories will only add further anxiety, shame and guilt.
And because emotional eating involves an unhealthy binge on fats, sugars and overall empty calories, it may also lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and even heart disease.
You don’t have to be a prisoner to your fridge: you can end the cycle of emotional eating. Here’s how to stop emotional eating habits in five simple steps:
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1) Emotional Hunger & Physical Hunger
Before you can stop emotional eating, you need to learn the difference between that and actual physical hunger.
Emotional hunger can feel just as real as physical hunger. And as a result, it’s easy to confuse it with physical hunger.
However, there are many different tools you can use to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger.
– Emotional Hunger Strikes Quickly
Physical hunger tends to come on gradually and get stronger with time. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, happens suddenly and feels overwhelming and urgent.
– Emotional Hunger Calls For Very Specific Comfort Foods
Have you ever been so hungry you could “eat a horse” – or just about anything, for that matter? This is because when you are physically hungry, your body craves nourishment and just about anything will do – even less tasty stuff like vegetables.
When you are emotionally hungry, your body wants something salty or sugar that will provide instant gratification. You may feel you absolutely need fried chicken or ice cream and that nothing else will suffice.
– Emotional Hunger is Never Satisfied
When you’re physically hungry, it’s easier to stop eating when you’re full. By contrast, emotional hunger can turn you into a bottomless pit – stuffing yourself until you are uncomfortably full or even sick to your stomach.
– Emotional Hunger Results in Guilt & Regret
We all slip up and eat something we shouldn’t sometimes. An extra slice of pizza, dessert we really didn’t need.
But if you regularly feel intense guilt or shame after eating, it’s likely because you know that you are not eating for the right reasons. Instead of nourishing your body, you’re trying to sate your soul with empty calories.
2) Identify Your Emotional Eating Triggers
Emotional eating can be brought on by any number of factors. So the next important step in putting a stop to emotional eating is to identify what triggers it. What scenarios, places, people or thoughts cause you to seek comfort in food?
Here are a few examples of common emotional eating triggers:
Stress can be hard on the body for a number of reasons – and emotional eating is definitely one of them. This is because serious stress can release high levels of the hormone cortisol.
This hormone triggers intense cravings for foods that provide instant satisfaction – typically sweet, salty and fatty foods low in nutritional value.
– Bottled Emotions
Sometimes it’s hard to deal with our feelings – and food is a popular way to numb ourselves of them temporarily. Emotional eating can be a way to temporarily quiet our thoughts and feelings, including those of anger, depression, fear, loneliness and more.
Have you ever found yourself combing through kitchen cupboards or exploring the refrigerator just because you have nothing better to do?
If you’re eating to relieve boredom, then this is a type of emotional eating. It’s usually brought on by feelings of unfulfillment and food can be a way to temporarily provide distraction.
3) Keep a Food Diary
The best ways to balance emotions and eating is to keep a food diary. This will allow you to see patterns in your emotional eating habits and learn from your mistakes.
Be sure to record things like what you ate (or even wanted to eat), how you felt before you ate (triggers), what you felt as you ate and how you felt afterward.
4) Find Healthier Ways to Deal With Your Feelings
After you get a better grip on what your personal triggers are, it’s easier to find better methods to manage them – without overeating.
So for example, if you frequently eat because you’re bored, try to substitute emotional eating with a hobby you enjoy. Read a good book, do a crossword puzzle or simply get up and take a brisk walk around the block.
Exercise is an easy way to get a quick boost of endorphins and will replicate the effect that comfort food has on your brain – but in a healthy way.
5) Take Some Time to Calm Yourself
Since emotional eating comes on fast and quickly because it’s mindless, it’s essential to take a second to stop yourself and think about what you’re doing.
Are you actually physically hungry? Or are you emotionally eating? Did something upset you recently? Is there anything you can do instead of eating to make yourself feel better?
All you have to do is resist the urge to eat for just a few minutes to reflect on your emotions. This can enable you to better understand the triggers and feelings that bring on emotional eating – and save you from consuming an entire pint of ice cream.
How to Stop Emotional Eating Habits
Just like any addiction, the first step to overcoming emotional eating is admitting you have a problem. Listen to your body and learn the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.
Once you realize that you’re eating for the wrong reasons, figure out why.
Analyze your social circumstances and environmental triggers to learn what brings on the urge to eat. Keeping a food diary is a great way to help track your triggers and look for patterns in your emotional eating.
Once you understand why you eat, you have more power to manage it.
Develop healthy alternatives to dealing with your feelings that don’t involve binge eating. It might be as simple as going for a walk around the block.
Lastly, take a brief pause next time you find yourself in the kitchen. Take some time to analyze your thoughts and feelings and make sure you’re eating for the right reasons – out of actual hunger and not emotion.