All of us gain comfort with eating once in a while. While small doses of emotional eating aren’t necessarily dangerous to our health, it’s important to remember that those “little things” (like grabbing an ice cream after a nerve-racking day at work or nibbling on chocolates when you’re hormonal) can quickly turn into a habit which, by the way, can lead you to lose control of your weight. Comfort eating often only becomes a problem when it’s your primary (or only) way to calm and relieve yourself from pressure. The good news is that there are several techniques to help you stop emotional eating before it starts to harm you physically and emotionally.
Emotional Eating Indicators to Look Out for
Here are some ways to identify whether you’re emotionally eating, plus a few tips for what to do about it:
- We have the urge to eat a very specific food. Whenever something happens that makes us feel afraid or uncertain, we tend to turn to food to ground us and to help us find comfort. We set our sights on certain foods that will bring relief to us by knowing that we can be sure of one thing when all else seems so out of control.
- We still eat even after having been able to eat a full meal. When we stress eat, we usually use food as some sort of placeholder for something else in our lives. Whether it was triggered by loneliness, detachment, or lack of purpose in life, we think food can temporarily take the place of whatever that’s missing.
- We eat fast. Emotional eating often takes our attention off the eating process itself and even numb us out during the meal. Since we find it somewhat tricky to address certain stressors in our lives, our body ends up turning to very easy and consoling distractions – food!
- We eat right after an emotional event. If the very first thing you want to do is eat immediately after experiencing intense emotions (be it positive or negative), the odds are you are already showing signs of emotional eating.
- We end up feeling guilty about eating. After stress eating, both the brain and the body suddenly become aware of what just happened, even if you have no idea what exactly the trigger was. Feelings of guilt or shame after indulging yourself are a red flag which suggests that you might be just emotionally eating.
How You Can Try to Bring Emotional Eating to an End
The moment you start to reach for food in response to an eating trigger, try one of the following activities instead:
- Go out for a short walk or jog.
- Grab a good book or magazine, or listen to your favorite music
- Perform some deep breathing exercises.
- Talk to a friend or write a letter
- Do housework (i.e. washing the laundry or gardening)
- Take a bubble bath.
- Do any other pleasurable or necessary activity until the urge to eat passes.