We do not always eat because we are hungry or to feed our body. Many of us eat because we are bored, sad, worried, lonely or stressed. It is not only negative emotions that cause us to emotionally eat. How many times have we celebrated with a special dinner and given children treats or ice cream in celebration? Eating to feed your emotional needs is not a healthy behavior and can lead to weight gain and sabotage when trying to lose weight.
Insight is very important in the fight against emotional eating. The first step to stopping this behavior is finding your triggers. Once you find the triggers to your emotional eating, you can find a replacement behavior. Some replacement behaviors are: walking, writing, drawing, playing an instrument, exercise, meditate or anything that you enjoy doing other than eating. It is also equally important to start feeling and processing your emotions. The suppression or avoidance of feelings is what is leading you to emotional eating.
1. Food Diary: Start a food diary and write down the time of day and everything you eat throughout the day. Look for patterns in your eating, do you usually eat around 10 am because you are bored, or have a gap in your work schedule? Look at the times of day and what is going on at that time to see if there is a pattern of behavior and what the emotion is that you are feeling that is driving you to eat.
2. Manage your Stress: Managing your stress can make a big difference in stopping emotional eating. Start an exercise program, deep breathe, try Yoga and/or meditation.
3. Suppressing Emotions: After having a bad day, fight the urge to go home and over eat, try calling a friend or family member to discuss the day and the feelings that you are experiencing. Trying to numb or suppress the feelings and feel better through food is not a healthy choice.
4. Reality Check: Ask yourself "Am I hungry?" before you eat. If the answer is yes, make a healthy food choice. If the answer is no, think about why you want to eat and what is triggering this desire for food.
5. Healthy Snacks: Instead of reaching for that bowl of ice cream, reach for fruit. You will still have the sweet taste and it is much healthier for you. Cut up some fruit and veggies so they are easily accessible and ready to eat when you want a snack. This way you can just grab some carrot sticks when you want a snack and do not have to start cutting and chopping. The idea is to find alternatives that are satisfying to you.
Using food occasionally to feel better when you are down or as a way to celebrate is okay. When food becomes the main self soothing tool, the behavior is problematic. Stopping emotional eating is not something simple or easy to accomplish. It takes time, commitment and perseverance. If you are finding that it is becoming very difficult for you to stop this behavior, and you are feeling overly emotional seek support from a professional who can assist you with your goals.
Disclaimer: this blog is meant for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a replacement for therapy or treatment.
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Dr. Deb is a successful Psychologist who practices in New York City. She is an Anxiety Specialist who works with adolescents and adults providing both individual and couples counseling.
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Debra O'Shea, Psy.D PLLC
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