Does this scenario sound familiar? Your kids refused to listen and get ready for school in the morning causing you to run late to work, you spilled your coffee on your new shirt, had a last-minute project thrown at you at work, your boss yelled at you, and you sat in traffic on the drive home. What a day.
So, when you finally arrive home (and after you put the kids to bed), you breathe a sigh of relief, head into the kitchen, and throw any semblance of good nutrition out the window, and instead, you decide you “deserve” a glass or two or three of wine and throw in some chocolate and ice cream too.
Before you know it, you’ve munched your way through the entire kitchen without eating any proper nutrition.
Sound familiar? It’s called emotional eating.
As a Holistic NJ Nutritionist who specializes in emotional eating, I see clients time and time again use food to deal with negative emotions, such as fear, anger, frustration, boredom, or sadness. Food becomes a comfort mechanism to distract us from our feelings or to make us feel good temporarily.
The trouble with emotional eating is it overrides your body’s natural hunger cycle and can promote things like:
- weight gain
- an increase in your risk for inflammation and chronic disease
- create an unhealthy relationship between you and food
- lead to more dangerous types of disordered eating
Here are 6 great tips to help stop emotional eating in its tracks:
- Have a non-food outlet to process uncomfortable feelings. Like movement, journaling, or talking to a trusted friend, nutritionist, dietician, or counselor.
- Manage stress. Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, getting enough sleep and letting go of things you cannot control.
- Recognize boredom. Call a friend, take a walk, pick up a book, or tackle a DIY project or hobby you’ll enjoy when you know boredom is likely to strike.
- Practice self-care. Focus on your needs and do things that make you feel good.
- Practice mindful eating. Avoid distractions at meals. Eat slowly, chew, and savor each bite. Stop eating when you feel full.
- Eat a balanced diet full of nutrient-dense foods, with plenty of protein, healthy fat and fiber to promote satiety.
Two common trademarks of emotional eating seen in the world of nutrition – seen by both nutritionists and dieticians alike, are bingeing and mindless eating.
Bingeing is overeating, usually on highly palatable foods (because they make us feel better emotionally and they taste delicious).
Mindless eating is eating when you’re not paying attention to the eating experience and so you are not aware of what or how much you are eating or how those foods are making your body feel.
The key to successfully curb overeating is learning to listen to your body’s cues and be in tune with signs of hunger and satiety. You want to eat when you feel hungry, but not famished. Feeling overly starving can trigger overeating.
You can ask yourself a few questions to determine the level of hunger vs. emotion:
• When did I last eat – has it been a few hours and how much did I eat? • Does my stomach feel empty? Am I hungry? • Is my stomach rumbling? • Am I thirsty? People often mistake being hungry for being thirsty. • What emotions am I feeling? Anxious, depressed, stressed? • Am I bored?
When you figure out if you are hungry or not, you can properly nourish yourself with the right nutrition and pay attention to your satiety cues during the meal. It’s important to eat the right nutrition at a time when you start to feel hungry and not wait until you feel starving, for risk of overeating or binge eating.
If you determine you’re not hungry, then you can use the above tips to hone in on your emotion and nip any emotional eating tendencies in the bud.