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Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Eating

Beautiful Young Woman choosing between Fruits and SweetsFood is a big part of our lives; we are surrounded by it.  It nourishes our body and oftentimes, it is the guidepost by which we mark major milestones: birthdays, holidays, promotions, celebrations and even sad moments.  Throughout the course of our lifetime, these cultural traditions begin to shape how we feel about food. When left unchecked, this emotional attachment to food can lead to emotional eating.

The problem with emotional eating is that, most often, the food we crave is sugary and loaded with empty calories. In order to break the cycle of emotional eating you must first learn to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger.

One major difference between the two is that physical hunger develops gradually, whereas emotional hunger comes on suddenly.  Emotional hunger is intense and demands to be satisfied immediately with a specific food item, such as ice cream, chocolate, chips, or a specific texture, taste or smell. Physical hunger can wait. Finally, emotional eating leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed.

Emotional eating is triggered by many different feelings. Some eat due to stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression, while others eat as a reward or out of boredom. According to an article in American Demographics, “The types of comfort foods a person is drawn toward varies depending on their mood. People in happy moods tended to prefer … foods such as pizza or steak (32%). Sad people reached for ice cream and cookies 39% of the time, and 36% of bored people opened up a bag of potato chips.”

So how can you take control of emotional eating?

  • Keep stress to a minimum. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, find an effective way to reduce it, such as yoga, exercise, meditation or relaxation.
  • Check in with your hunger before you eat. Are you physically hungry or emotionally craving food? If it’s a food craving, give the craving a little time to pass or fill the space with something soothing or enjoyable.
  • Keep a food diary. Record what and when you eat, how much, and how you’re feeling when you eat. Over time, you may begin to notice patterns between your mood and food.
  • Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you’re not truly hungry, distract yourself. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your pet, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or call a friend.
  • Take away temptation. Don’t keep comfort foods in your home if they’re hard for you to resist. And if you feel upset or sad, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’re sure that you have your emotions in check.
  • Eat at the dining table: Most emotional eating occurs while watching TV on the couch, in the car, or while reading in bed. Only allow yourself to eat at the dining table.

Emotional eating can be a hard habit to break. Sometimes, you need a partner in this journey; if that’s the case, contact Blue Sky MD to find out how we can provide you with the tools you need to succeed.