If there’s one thing we’re all guilty of when it comes to food, it’s probably emotional eating. Food has a way of comforting us when we feel sad and lonely, sharing our excitement when we’re celebrating, and bringing us together with our loved ones. This isn’t always problematic, but if you find yourself in an emotional eating pattern, here are some ways to break the cycle.
Understand your emotional triggers around eating.
In order to determine the best ways to overcome emotional eating, it’s a good idea to first gain clarity around what’s triggering your emotional eating in the first place.1 Is it a stressful job, a strained relationship, financial concerns, or boredom?
One way to do this is to keep a journal for a week. Write down every time you feel like you’re emotional eating, or eating when you’re not hungry, including the thoughts or feelings you’re experiencing at the time. This can help you connect what things in your life are making you reach for food when you may not really want to be.
Make self care a part of your regular routine.
Think of some things you enjoy doing that make you feel relaxed and calm. For example, some people enjoy bubble baths, listening to music, going for a long walk, painting, or setting up a regular massage appointment. Find a few ways you love to lower your stress levels and make these a priority in your schedule.
Having self care activities in place can help redirect your mind to look for non-food ways of meeting emotional needs and coping with stressors. They may also help prevent emotional buildup that ultimately leads to overeating or making poor food choices.
Practice mindful and intuitive eating.
This means learning to pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues, eating more slowly, and making an effort to notice the details of your food as you taste it. It may sound silly, but focusing on the texture, aroma, and flavor of the food that you eat can slow you down and learn to be more mindful. When you find yourself reaching for a midday snack, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry or if you’re feeling an emotion, like sad, anxious, or even bored. If the latter, take note of what emotion is triggering you and find something else to keep your mind busy.
Avoid diet plans, counting calories, and anything else that could lead to restrictive eating.
Emotional eating can lead to weight problems for some people, or difficulty losing weight.2 However, dieting can be very restrictive, which doesn’t do you any favors in the long run. More often than not, diets have the opposite effect of what you wanted, leading to overeating or binging, and feelings of failure.
Instead, commit to eating a whole foods diet as much as possible, based on minimally processed foods that are low in additives and unhealthy ingredients, and high in nutrients. Making healthy food choices should be a lifestyle that is sustainable and feels good. Additionally, because emotional eating rarely has much to with food itself, work on emotional regulation and self care skills will likely provide more benefit than dieting.3
Emotional eating is very common, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to overcome it this behavior if it’s causing concern in your life. Understanding your emotional triggers can help you make some lifestyle changes that positively impact your relationship with food.
Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian
- Debeuf T, Verbeken S, Van Beveren ML, Michels N, Braet C. Stress and Eating Behavior: A Daily Diary Study in Youngsters. Front Psychol. 2018;9:2657. Published 2018 Dec 21. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02657
- Frayn M, Livshits S, Knäuper B. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. J Eat Disord. 2018;6:23. Published 2018 Sep 14. doi:10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6
- van Strien T. Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity. Curr Diab Rep. 2018;18(6):35. Published 2018 Apr 25. doi:10.1007/s11892-018-1000-x