Emotional Eating: Why We Do It & How To Stop

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OK so yesterday was a pretty bad day. Well…only the end of it, but it sucked nonetheless. I went to my car today, to go home from work, tried to put the key in the ignition and I couldn’t. It wouldn’t go in. My key didn’t go into the ignition. What?! I jiggled the steering wheel, locked and unlocked the car…everything. But the key still wouldn’t go in. There was something stuck inside the ignition! Luckily I have AAA and I called them to come save me! About 3 hours later I finally arrived at the VW dealer here in Alexandria. Tired. Sweaty. Hungry. And ready to trade in my VW for something that actually works on a regular basis.

emotionaleating My stressful evening and soon after craving for a giant bowl of ice cream, reminded me of the emotional eating class we teach patients at our office. Over 75% of people over eat due to their emotions. And that usually goes for me. Emotions trigger that feeling of needing comfort or needing to get away from our troubles. It can take over our logical minds and give us reasons and excuses to eat high calorie, high fat foods in larger portions. It’s just what we’ve been conditioned to do.

emotional-eating2 How can you recognize these emotional eating triggers? And how can you put an end to the over indulgence in comfort foods? The first step is to understand and be able to identify your emotional eating triggers. The things that “set you off.” These include:

  • Social situations – this includes eating in excessive amounts from the encouragement of others or eating to fit in.
  • Emotional – these are the more traditional feelings or moods that frequently cause excessive eating. Something like: loneliness, sadness, depression, anger, anxiety, frustration, stress or boredom.
  • Situational – Eating only because the opportunity and the food presents itself. For example eating because your co-worker brought in brownies and they just happen to be in the break room.
  • Thoughts – eating due to negative self talk or giving yourself reasons and excuses to over eat and indulge.
  • Physiological – eating or over eating from the physiological feeling of hunger – especially if you skip meals or do not eat enough – may cause you to over eat.
  • Replacement – food can often act is a distraction or a temporary replacement for thoughts or activities we are dreading or do not want to deal with. You may eat so you don’t have to think about difficult situations or activities that you need to address.

emotional-eating3 Since each person is different, there are tons of reasons why you may over eat or eat due to high emotions. But it’s important to recognize the most common reasons and then add in anything more specific to you. Once you’ve identified your most common triggers, you can then progress to figuring out how to stop emotional eating and beat the cravings! Here are some good places to start:

  1. Keep a food diary. Record your daily intake of food and with each meal, snack or eating time, record how you feel and if anything specific led to that feeling. This can help you visually associate different feelings, moods or events that trigger you to eat.
  2. Recognize real hunger. I’ve talked about this before (in this post), but make sure when you eat a meal or snack you are truly hungry. That means stomach growling, hunger pangs and the feeling of an empty stomach.
  3. Find comfort somewhere else. This is key! You need to identify other ways or methods to self sooth. Whether its running a hot bath, taking the dog for a walk, reading a good book or going for a scenic drive, you need to find something non food related to occupy yourself and calm down. Check out this list for 101 ideas to comfort yourself!
  4. Get rid of the junk. Jif peanut butter is not in my house. Why? Because it’s my number 1 trigger food. If it’s here, it’s gone in seconds. Identify your unhealthy trigger foods and get them out of your house. Immediately… Even if you are craving it, if it’s not in your house, you can’t eat it.
  5. Don’t starve! Snacking can be part of a healthy diet. And can even prevent over eating binges. Letting yourself get to that “I can eat a horse” stage is not good. Your biological need for energy will override your logical mind for healthy options. So if you’re feeling hungry and dinner is 3 hours away, find something healthy to snack on to hold you over.
  6. Get some Zzzzz’s! When your body is well rested and has time to relax over night, it’s much easier for you to manage your mood, behaviors and the types of food you eat. Get around 8 hrs a night.

Recognizing emotional eating and then changing your behaviors can be difficult. But if you’re patient, smart and have a good plan you have the power to stop! My tips and suggestions are a great place to start. But if you find you need more help speak to your local registered dietitian or behavior specialist.

You tell me! What are your emotional triggers? Do you have cravings when you’re stressed or angry? What tips do you have to stop emotional eating?

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