Ever had a bad day came home and indulged in too many cookies? Get a little stressed and reach for the tub of ice cream? Try to calm your nerves with a mouthful of anything? This is called emotional eating and most people have partaken in this event at some point in their life.
How to Deal with Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is a strategy that uses food to deal with negative emotions. This means that you are eating to satisfy an emotional need rather than a physical need. Emotional eating is only a short-term solution that derails our health goals and aids in avoiding the true problems that caused our emotional reaction.
Learning to stop emotional eating can be a long and difficult process that takes hard work and dedication. Here are a few steps to follow to help you get started on your journey to break free from your emotional eating habit:
Recognize emotional eating.
- Try keeping a journal for at least two weeks. Record everything you eat, as well as your mood before and after eating. Look back and see if there is a pattern related to your thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that triggers emotional eating.
Label your emotions.
- Experiencing negative emotions is completely normal. Letting the stress, worry, and sadness lead to emotional eating is detrimental to our mental and physical health. Once you recognize your emotions, learn to label them. Write them in your journal. Are you sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, excited? Identifying the proper emotion without judgement will help you make sense of them.
Practice non-food coping skills.
- Finding a variety of coping strategies that do not involve food will help you deal with your emotions. Some ideas include listening to music, talking to a friend, going for a walk, and engaging in creative hobbies. Exercise is another great coping strategy with several physical and mental benefits. Consider trying Pilates, yoga, or meditation.
Build in food treats.
- Try not to see food as a reward, as this reaffirms that it is a “bad” food. When we eat foods we consider “bad,” we feel guilty. Allow yourself an indulgence, without guilt, simply because you enjoy that food. Love pizza, chocolate, spaghetti, or cookies? Practice enjoying proper portion sizes of these foods or incorporate them into a healthy, balanced meal. A treat doesn’t equal a cheat! It’s OK to let yourself have a small indulgence here and there, you deserve it.
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.