You are having a bad day; feel sad, lonely, angry, bored, weak. Things are not going the way you wanted them to and you wish things were different. When dealing with a difficult time in your life, do you turn to food? Sometime eating well beyond feeling full? If you do, you may be an “emotional eater”.
Why do we turn to food? Obviously, we think it will make us feel better. At that moment, the smooth, sweet, creamy or salty flavors do fill us with immediate pleasure. The goal is to defeat those negative emotions. In the long run this becomes a way to sabotage your efforts to be healthy. Emotional eaters don’t break out the veggie platter, right? No, the foods of choice are packed full of fat, salt, sugar, and are high in calories. The end result is that your weight goes up and up. Then you feel bad… and then you emotionally eat… it is a vicious cycle and it needs to be broken.
Emotional eating is not a given. The good news is that you can take control. It will take work, but in the end, the results will make you feel wonderful about yourself.
Before you do anything else, get a physical ~ it may not be a matter of emotions running your life. There may be a physical issue that needs addressing. Afterward, if you get a clean bill of health, then it is time to deal with emotional eating. Here are some tips to follow before your next bite:
Stop & think: Take about 15 minutes and sit down and think about whether you are truly hungry. A growling stomach and slowly developing feelings of hunger means you are really hungry. Cravings come on quickly, and pass, if not fed, in about 15 minutes.
Hydrate yourself: Adults often do not perceive thirst. While you are thinking about whether or not you are truly hungry, have a glass of water. If you were thirsty, this will suffice and you will not need to eat.
Learn what your triggers are: Take several days and keep a food record. Track everything- food & drinks plus dates, time, amounts, how long it took to eat and how you were feeling. You are looking for patterns that lead to emotional eating.
Plan: Key to avoiding emotional eating is planning ahead. For example, if you know that you emotionally eat as soon as you get home after work due to stress, have a small healthy snack waiting in the car. Before you turn the key, perhaps you eat a fruit and small packet (1 ounce) of nuts.
Find non-food comforts: Take some time when you are having a calm day, and write down a list of non-food comforts. It may be that you have immediate comforts such as picking up a phone and calling friends. You may also have comforts that take more effort such as meditating or doing yoga.
If it tempts you – get rid of it: If you can’t be around a chocolate bar without taking a bite, don’t have it in your possession (not in the house, freezer or car). If you would have to go out to get a comfort food, chances are you will “make do” with another action.
Don’t go hungry: Skipping meals are an emotional eater’s worst form of self-sabotage. Daily have three meals and two snacks. Every 2–3 days make some ready-to-eat healthy snacks such as cut up veggies with yogurt dip, air-popped popcorn (use “spray” margarine to flavor), and sugar-free jello.
Make healthy eating a lifestyle: Consistent healthy food choices (85-95 percent of the time) are essential to reaching a healthy body weight, and combating emotional eating. Choose good carbs (e.g. whole grains, vegetables, and fruit), lean protein (e.g. poultry, fish, soy, and lean meats), heart healthy fats (e.g. nuts, seeds and oils), and low-fat dairy (e.g. skim/1 percent milk and yogurt). Pay attention to portions, and eat slowly.
Get moving! Exercise is a stress reliever and mood elevator. Include all types of exercise (aerobic, strengthening and flexibility), and aim for 3–6 days a week. When you workout, you sleep deeply, feeling more rested in the morning… able to face whatever challenges life throws at you.
It is important to remember that no one is perfect. Aim for healthy eating 85-95 percent of the time. During those times when you give in to your emotions, let it go. Move forward, instead of dwelling on past choices you made. At your next meal, snack or scheduled exercise session, just go on as planned. Finally, if you find that you cannot stop emotional eating on your own, consider seeing a therapist (psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker) to face your feelings and to get tools to exert control.
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, Feeding Hills and West Springfield. If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 786-1500.