The holiday season is right around the corner. While the holidays are a joyful time for most, holidays can be extremely stressful. Stressful events often lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as emotional eating. Emotional eating is eating as a method of soothing or coping with negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger, boredom, loneliness, and depression. Emotional eating can be triggered by small daily stressors (work drama, a poor night’s sleep, minor illness), as well as major life changes (unemployment, financial concerns, divorce, death).
While we’re all subject to emotional eating from time to time (who doesn’t love comfort food!), emotional eating is a problem if it becomes a habit, or if it’s your main go-to for dealing with negative emotions. Emotional eating can lead to weight gain, health risks, body image concerns, and more negative emotions. It’s a vicious cycle that causes you to feel out of control. But it can be changed. Just like any other habit, emotional eating is a behavior that can be shaped, or unshaped in this case.
ARE YOU AN EMOTIONAL EATER?
Here are a few triggers that may suggest you eat as a way to cope with negative feelings:
- You reach for sugary or salty snacks when you feel tired, stressed, sad, worried, overwhelmed or angry
- You don’t feel satiated even after eating a large amount and you can’t stop eating, even when you’re full
- You eat to reward yourself or find yourself justifying your eating (“If I eat a row of Oreos today, I won’t eat any sugar for the rest of the week.”)
- You feel guilty, ashamed, out-of-control, and more emotional as a result of overeating
If you find yourself victim to frequent emotional eating and want to curb your cravings, here are a few tips:
WHAT TO DO:
1. KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
Keep a log of when you have a tendency to resort to emotional eating (is it a certain event, time of day, time of the month?). Recognizing and being mindful of your triggers can help increase your awareness to change and will assist you in planning ahead.
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: A HUNGER REALITY CHECK
Before you reach for the bag of M&M’s, take a brief moment to check-in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling in this moment?” “Am I truly hungry or am I eating in response to get rid of an unwanted emotion?” If you’re truly hungry, try eating a healthy snack first. If you still want the M&M’s afterward, limit yourself to a small serving. If you’re not truly hungry, try engaging in an activity that will cause you to feel opposite of the unwanted emotion (e.g. If you’re feeling sad, watch a funny video clip. If you’re feeling anxious, take a quick relaxing break outside and focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths).
3. DON’T TEMPT YOURSELF
Stress happens… It’s inevitable. Don’t expect yourself to have superpowers when it comes to resisting the bag of Doritos in the pantry or the ice cream in the freezer. If comfort food is around, you’ll likely eat it. You’re human. So don’t keep large quantities of your favorite comfort foods in the house, especially during times of high stress.
4. BEEF UP YOUR COPING SKILLS
Make a list of coping skills you can use in place of emotional eating and make several copies, or keep the list on your phone so it’s easily accessible. Check out this list of POSITIVE ACTIVITIES or try this list of POSITIVE THINKING techniques to change your negative thoughts.
5. GET SUPPORT
Emotional eating is not uncommon. Talk to a friend or family member who struggles with emotional eating and work together to change your behavior. Set small daily goals, share them with each other, and hold each other accountable. As humans, we’re much more likely to follow through with a goal or task if we’ve let someone else know about it.
If you can’t seem to get your emotional eating under control or believe you’re struggling with coexisting anxiety or depression, Harmony At Home can help.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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