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10 Ways to soothe yourself without food

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Put an end to emotional eating

How many times have you found yourself at the bottom of a pint of Peanut Butter Cup Ben & Jerry’s after a bad day? Though every spoonful may have tasted sweet and creamy, did consuming the nearly 1,400 calories really make your day better? Emotional eating is especially rampant during the stressful holiday season, but women go on emotionally charged binges year-round. Susan Albers, Psy.D., author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, has 10 calorie-free ways to cope with stress.

Woman chewing gum

1

Give yourself a massage

Do you notice how you automatically start rubbing your temples when tension starts to rise? Albers says to take it a step further. "We naturally do self-massage, and intentionally and purposefully massaging tight spots can release feel-good chemicals in your body," she says. "Place a tennis ball under your foot and rub around. Or place the ball behind your shoulder blades and stand against the wall. It's an instant, cheap massage that can be done right at your desk or in the kitchen."

Try this guide to DIY massage for sore muscles >>

2

Have a cup of tea

Tea

Taking a break with a cup of black tea, which has zero calories, can reduce your cortisol levels by 47 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Albers recommends The Republic of Tea chocolate teas for a stress-free sweet fix.

3

Get some sleep

According to Albers, sleep is critical to putting an end to emotional eating. "When you miss even a few hours of sleep, your appetite hormones are thrown off," the health expert explains. "Six to nine hours is optimal." Just as you schedule appointments and other events, be sure to schedule adequate sleep.

Top 10 seasonal sleeping tips >>

4

Chew gum

Keep a pack of sugarless gum in your purse and use it often. Not only is it good for your teeth, it can help you halt emotional eating. "A recent study in the journal Appetite indicates that chewing gum 15 minutes before you eat can significantly reduce your appetite and curb cravings," says Albers. "Brain scans show that it moves your brain into a ‘relaxed but alert’ state. Thus, it's great when you get the urge to boredom-eat."

5

Walk off the cravings

Breaking the emotional eating habit can be the hardest part of putting an end to it. Replace your response to eat when stressed with a response to exercise. Instead of reaching for a candy bar, lace up your shoes and go for a walk or do any other physical activity you enjoy. This may be especially helpful if your comfort food of choice is chocolate or other high-calorie snacks. "According to a study in the journal Appetite, taking a brisk walk for 20 minutes can help you curb chocolate cravings," adds Albers. Swapping out emotional eating with exercise also means you’ll boost your fitness level.

6

Try chew sticks

No, Albers doesn’t recommend stealing the Greenies from your pet, but she does encourage chew sticks for humans. "They look like toothpicks but are flavored and they can be purchased at natural health foods stores or online," she explains. "They help people lose weight and stop smoking. They allow you to crunch and chew without any calories. Straws can also help to alleviate oral fixations."

7

Change your eating behavior with worry beads

Worry beads have a long history of helping people cope with addictive behaviors, which can help you break the habit of reaching for food whenever you feel angst-ridden. "Keep worry beads in your hand and use them to work off nervous energy," says Albers, instead of wrapping your fingers around the first indulgent food you can find.

8

Rely on purposeful distraction

Are you a multitasker who not only emotionally eats but also does it while watching television, texting, talking on the phone or perusing Pinterest? Albers warns that distracted eating is a recipe for overeating but that distracting yourself from eating can curb your comfort-food cravings. "Engaging your mind in an activity that stimulates your brain but isn't too taxing, like simple word puzzles, knitting and other rhythmic activities, can soothe and calm you," she adds.

9

Relax like a rag doll

"Anxiety is at the heart of many of our mindless nibbles, says Albers. "To calm down your body, you can do a very simple relaxation exercise: Drop down your muscles as if you were a rag doll. Tense up your body and then assume the [rag-doll] position again. The contrast between tightening and relaxing can help unlock anxiety."

5 Practical ways to stress less >>

10

Breathe deep

Calming your physiological responses is key to reducing cortisol naturally. Imagine blowing through a straw as you exhale. Count to 10 on the slow, deep, in-breaths. Slowing down your breathing tricks your body into believing that it is going into sleep mode, thus signaling the rest of your body to just relax.

More on emotional eating

I can’t stop eating! How to stop emotional eating during the holidays
Weight gain: Are your emotions to blame?
Why women who diet often gain weight

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