Emotional eating is something a lot of people struggle with. When stress, sadness, or anger hit, many will turn to food to deal with those emotions. Of course, eating doesn't actually help the situation. In fact, in some cases it makes it worse. But the way emotional eating takes over your life means you can't always control it.
Things like financial struggles, relationship woes, professional stress, and general fatigue can only make matters worse, but there are things you can do to help control your emotional eating. Remember: you may not be perfect when it comes to stopping this bad habit, but you need to aim for progress, not perfection.
1. Eat Regularly
It sounds strange, but eating regularly can be a big help when it comes to emotional eating. Making sure you're always staying satisfied can help control your hunger when emotions hit. By eating three meals a day, and adding in snacks throughout the day as well, you're making sure your hunger doesn't control your life.
Keeping healthy snacks around is a good decision, and will help ensure your hunger is dealt with in an acceptable way.
2. Write A List
Often times, emotional eating is linked to stress. When that stress builds up inside, sometimes it's helpful to write things down, even if they're not related to what's causing your anxiety. A good rule of thumb is writing a list of five things. It doesn't really matter what your list is about, but these are some suggestions:
- 5 people you can call to talk to
- 5 of your favorite TV shows
- 5 things you are grateful for
- 5 words that make you think of being calm
Anything that helps take your mind off the stress will ultimately take your mind off of emotional eating. You might also find that doodling helps as well. Taking pen to paper can be a soothing activity no matter what you're creating.
3. Plan Ahead
When I know I'm going to have a busy day at work, or have a stressful day ahead emotionally, I always try to prepare myself mentally to deal with it. It helps prevent any emotional surprises, which can then lead to a binge.
For example, if I know I'm running around doing errands on a Saturday before going to a dinner party, I make sure to eat a healthy breakfast before heading out and planning in time to get lunch. It stops me from grabbing unhealthy snacks while I'm out, or skipping lunch all together and then bingeing when I get to the dinner party.
4. Do A Reality Check
If you find yourself reaching for food, do a quick reality check and see if you can figure out why you're reaching for it. Are you actually hungry, or are you bored, sad, angry, stressed, etc.? There's a big difference.
It can be helpful to ask yourself if that food will solve your problem in the moment. It keeps you grounded and makes you think through the issue at hand. Saying "this food will not change my current emotional state" can help your mind straighten things out.
5. Distract Yourself
Keeping your mind off of food is a great way to stop yourself from emotional eating. This tip is especially helpful if you find yourself eating a lot when you're bored. I'm super guilty of that, and I'm trying new ways to re-wire my brain on that front.
It could be as simple as getting yourself a fidget spinner or another type of gadget that keeps your hands busy, or it could be as big as going for a walk every time you think you want to eat something to deal with an emotion. I've found that taking up knitting can really help me distract myself, and it also keeps my hands busy so I can't snack.
6. Keep A Food Diary
Sometimes we eat without realizing it, and as the day goes on, we don't even realize how much we've had. Keeping a food diary can help you visualize just how much you're eating (or not eating) in a day.
The journal doesn't have to count calories or anything. It's just there to serve as a tool to keep you aware of what you're eating. Before you take a bite of something new, glance at your journal and see what you've already eaten that day. That will usually deter you from eating anything further, because you realize you're not eating out of hunger, just boredom.
7. Exercise Instead
I tried a new thing this year where instead of eating when I was mad, I went to the gym. I realize it's not for everyone, but substituting eating for exercise as an emotional tool can really help you control emotional eating. Of course, that's not to say I still don't give in now and again, but it's about taking small steps.
It doesn't have to be anything extreme, either. Maybe your exercise is jogging on the spot for 45 seconds to get your blood flowing. Perhaps your decide to take up yoga and learn a few stretches you can do while you're at your desk or out running errands.
Using physical activity to help combat emotional eating is one of your best options. Breathing techniques can also be useful in situations like this where you need some overall balance.
8. Don't Deprive Yourself
Especially if you're trying to lose weight, depriving yourself can only make things worse. Emotional eating provides a comfort to people, and not allowing yourself comfort in a hard time can interrupt your mental clarity.
Making small adjustments to your eating can provide a big impact on your overall being. Instead of eating an entire bag of potato chips after a bad day, maybe grab a snack-size bag instead. Portion control and choosing healthier options of your guilty pleasure can make emotional eating less consequential.
9. Clear Out The House
If you don't have junk food in the house, it's a lot harder to emotionally eat it. Make sure your cupboards are full of healthy choices and things that won't totally derail you. The prices on these junk food items aren't ideal, either, so you might find that you've got a little extra cash to spend on things you want, that aren't food-related.
It's also important that you keep healthy snacks in the house, so that when emotional eating does strike, you don't have to feel as guilty about it.
10. Be Kind To Yourself
Things happen. Life happens. You may think you have things under control, and then something happens and you feel like you're spiraling. Don't let one small misstep totally ruin your self-confidence. Speak to yourself confidently and kindly, and remind yourself that you're worth everything life has to give you.
A lot of emotional eating issues stem from low self-confidence, and the best way to combat those negative thoughts is by swapping them out with positive ones whenever you can.