You are having a bad day; you feel sad; it is a lonely time in your life; things are not going the way you want them to; you wish things were different; the stress of a situation is getting to you… and you feel weak. When dealing with a difficult time in your life, do you turn to food? If you do, this is called “emotional eating”.
Why do we turn to food? Obviously, we think it will make us feel better. And, in the moment, the smooth, sweet, creamy or salty, flavors do fill us with 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, we get out junk food full of fat, salt, sugar, and calories. The end result is that your weight goes up… then you feel bad… then you emotionally eat… it is a vicious cycle that needs breaking.
Emotional eating is not a given. The good news about it is that you can take control and break the cycle. It will take work, but in the end the results will make you feel wonderful about yourself.
Break the Cycle: Before you do anything, get a physical. There may be a physical issue that needs addressing. Ask for blood work to check blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid and iron. Also check blood pressure. If you have a clean bill of health, you can state that you emotional eating – here are tips to follow before your next bite:
Stop and think: Take 15 minutes to consider if you are truly hungry. True hunger comes on slowly – recognize it with stomach rumblings. Cravings come on quickly, and pass if not fed in about 15 minutes.
Hydrate yourself: While thinking about whether or not you are truly hungry, drink a glass of water. If you were thirsty, this will suffice and you will not eat.
Learn your triggers: Keep a food diary – detail all the food and drinks you have, including details such as the date, time, amounts, and feelings. Look for a pattern to detect when you emotionally eat.
Plan ahead: If you are emotionally beat by the end of the day, and just grab the first food you can find, have something healthy available. If you know that making a meal is the last thing you want to do after a long day, make meals on the weekend and freeze them. Have veggies cut-up and in ice water, so you can quickly grab a snack when needed. Have the veggies sitting on the counter if you pick while you make meals.
Find non-food comforts: Take some time when you are having a calm day, and write down a list of non-food comforts (e.g. calling a friend or throwing on a pair of sneakers and walking). There may be some comforts that take a little more effort such as meditating, taking a hot bath, listening to music in a room lit by candles.
If it tempts you… get rid of it: If you can’t be around a chocolate bar without taking a bite, don’t buy one. If you would have to actually go out to get a comfort food, the chances are you will “make do” with another action.
Don’t go hungry: Skipping meals are the worst thing for you if you are an emotional eater. Have three meals a day and a couple snacks routinely (fueling yourself every two to three hours).
Make healthy eating a lifestyle: Good food choices are essential to reaching a healthy body weight. 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 adequate calcium (e.g. non-fat or 1 percent milk and yogurt). Practice portion control, and slow down when you eat, making meals last.
Get moving! Use exercise as a stress reliever and mood elevator. Include all types of exercise (aerobic, strengthening and flexibility), and aim for 4 – 7 days a week. When you work out, you will sleep deeper and feel more rested in the morning; able to face whatever challenges life throws at you.
Cut yourself some slack: No one is perfect. Aim for healthy eating 85-95 percent of the time. During those times when you may give in to your emotions, just look at it as using your “wiggle room” when you don’t make the best choices. And move forward, no looking back and dwelling on choices you made. At your next meal, snack or scheduled exercise session, just go on as planned.
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.