Emotional Eating: 5 Tips on How to Stop Emotional Eating

When life is piling on the stress, many people turn to food—usually high-fat, high-sugar food—to help themselves cope. Over time, emotional eating may become a coping mechanism that leads to weight gain. That said, other people do the opposite and eat less food or skip meals altogether when stressed.

Bottom line: Emotional eating or using food to help yourself deal with emotions, such as stress, often leads to poor weight management. If you struggle with emotional eating, here are some practices that can help.

A Vicious Food Circle

Studies show that eating high-fat foods may help you feel content and satisfied—exactly what your body craves when you're faced with ongoing, long-term stress. However, the contentment may be short-lived: Foods that are high in fat can increase stress hormones and keep them high.

In other words, after the joy of eating fades, you might even feel worse. That's why it's important to learn the differences between physical and emotional hunger.

Tips to Stop Emotional Eating

If you discover that you're emotional eating due to stress, try these tips.

  1. Keep a food journal. It can make you more mindful of what you're eating and why. After each meal or snack for at least a week, write down what you ate, how much you ate, and how you felt at that time (before and after). Review your journal weekly.
  2. Find a replacement activity. Take a 10-minute break to reenergize. Listen to some feel-good tunes. Do an activity that you enjoy until the urge to eat passes.
  3. Take 10 (minutes) before reaching for food. Do you rush through the day without giving yourself a chance to unwind? Take a few minutes when you get home to relax before you eat.
  4. Get rid of the foods that tempt you. Find yourself reaching for the same foods when feeling stressed? Keep them out of the house.
  5. Eat a balanced diet. A healthy diet that contains foods from all of the major food groups gives your body the nutrition and energy it needs to fight stress. Having regular meals, carrying nutritious snacks, and planning your meals also may be helpful.

If You Need More Help to Stop Emotional Eating

It can be hard to break the cycle and stop emotional eating, but there are many professionals who are trained to help. These include:

  • Counselors and therapists who can teach you healthier ways to deal with stress
  • Dietitians and nutritionists who can help you make healthy food choices
  • Fitness experts who can get your body's feel-good chemicals moving with exercise instead of food

Talk to your health care professional about the option that's best for you. He or she may want to ensure that you're managing your weight safely, and if needed, may suggest professionals who can help you have a healthier relationship with food.

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