Thought I’d give this one a re-post today as emotional eating can creep up on us at any given moment.
Could stress be sabotaging your health and your waistline?
Ever find yourself drowning your sorrows into a pint of ice cream or mindlessly eating half a bag of potato chips out of sheer boredom? Ever been stressed or upset one second and munching on something the next, unable to recall why you started eating or how long you had spent binging? If so, then you have entered the realm of emotional eating. But don’t feel too guilty because you are not alone. Recent studies suggest that over 75% of overeating is caused by our emotions. “Depression, boredom, loneliness, chronic anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, problems with interpersonal relationships, and low self-esteem can result in overeating and weight gain.”
Emotional eating is defined as eating for reasons other than hunger. It is one of the most prominent weight loss obstacles and can strike any one of us at any given moment. Instead of eating due to physical cues from our bodies, such as a growling stomach, emotional eating is when our feelings trigger us to indulge and typically cause us to eat unhealthy foods.
Comfort foods are a huge part of emotional eating. People often eat to get something off their minds or alleviate stress. The kicker is that stress is accompanied by a spike in insulin, which may actually cause you to crave unhealthy foods (foods that pack on the pounds, causing you even more stress) . For example, women- we tend to crave foods such as ice cream, cookies, and chocolate (anything sweet) when we’re feeling stressed or unhappy, while men tend to crave foods such as meat and pizza. For many of us, there are foods from our childhood which trigger thoughts of reward and happiness. We use these foods to fill a void in our life, masking our feelings of negativity and stress. These foods tend to take us to our happy place. But in reality, these foods create feelings of guilt and unhappiness in the long run.
When we ignore our body’s physical cues and eat anytime we feel bored, emotional, or stressed, our body receives unwanted extra calories which are then stored as excess fat leading to increased weight gain and health risks. Even when you feel full, if you are eating to fulfill an emotional need, you are more likely to continue binge eating. If you eat because you are physically hungry, you are more likely to stop when you are full.
Rather than reaching for those comfort foods, we must develop new skills for dealing with boredom, stress, and self-esteem issues.
Here are some suggestions to help you battle emotional eating:
- Get to the root of your feelings instead of drowning your thoughts with unhealthy comfort foods. You must address your issues head on and accept them instead of hiding from them. What is the root cause for your stress or your negative thoughts and how can you change them?
- Keep a FOOD journal. Write down everything you eat while noting your hunger level on a scale from 1-10 to help bring to light if you are eating when you are truly hungry or for other reasons. Also address your feelings for that day in your journal.
- Keep a GRATITUDE journal. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, keeping a gratitude journal for even just ONE week can boost your mood for up to 6 months. A gratitude journal is simply writing down what you are thankful for every day, highlighting the positive moments of that day. It’s something simple you can add to your routine that can have significant impact on your mood.
- EXERCISE. As the movie Legally Blonde so gloriously highlighted, “Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you HAPPY” 🙂 This will help combat stress, poor body image, and feelings of negativity, diminishing the urge to superfluously eat.
- Drink water. You’d be surprised how drinking a big glass of water can curb your cravings and we all know our bodies need water, so it’s a win-win!
- Find something more productive and rewarding to do instead of eating. Go on a walk, call a friend, start a new hobby, go to the gym, meditate, read a book, enjoy the outdoors, do a devotional, etc.. Replacing the eating with a more positive action will give you a greater sense of self-worth and happiness while eradicating the bad habit of emotional eating.
- Stay busy! The more free time you have on your hands, the more time you have to get lost in negative thoughts or even boredom which will lead to more eating.
- Replace the unhealthy foods with healthy ones. I will be the first to say that the more healthy fruits and vegetables you eat, the more your body will crave them instead of the high-fat, high-sugar ones. It may seem difficult at first, but once you can eradicate the addictive sugary foods- you will be amazed by how much you do not think about them. The more you can adopt a plant-strong diet, the better you will feel!
- Moderation, Moderation, Moderation! I know for many of us, eliminating our comfort food is out of the question and realistically telling you that you can never have that food will actually cause you to crave it more, leading to a possible binge. That being said, allow yourself a SMALL amount of the food. For example, create your own 100-calorie portions so you are not tempted to eat the entire bag of potato chips in one sitting or buy the bite-sized Ben & Jerry’s portions so you don’t find yourself eating an entire pint. Or even better, find a healthy version of your unhealthy food..the possibilities are endless!
- Surround yourself with positive people and thoughts. Feelings of stress and inadequacy are triggers for emotional eating, therefore the more you can feel great about yourself and have happy thoughts, the less you will be tempted to eat. The more you eat healthy and have a positive body-image, the more you can enjoy life and eliminate negativity.
- Relax. If you are super stressed, take a load off! Get a massage, take a nap, take a weekend vacation, do some yoga, meditate, or pray. You want to diminish the stress instead of piling it on.
- Don’t give up! Setbacks are bound to happen. Think of a setback as a minor detour on a long journey. Do not feel as though you have failed if you have a day where you give into your emotional temptations. Jump right back in and stay positive!
- Stay in tune with your thoughts. We live such fast paced and hectic lives that many times we cannot stop to realize that we are having feelings of stress and anxiety. Try to stop and cope with these feelings before they have passed you by and you’ve eaten your way through it.
- Parents–Do NOT reward your kids with junk food. This could haunt your child all the way to adulthood. Rewarding your kids with treats, such as ice cream and cookies will make your child expect a food treat when they do something good, causing them to subconsciously reach for these junk food items later in life as well.
- Eat for FUEL. Remember to listen to your body. Is your body physically telling you to eat or are you eating just because you want to? Eat to live instead of living to eat 🙂