How to quit emotional eating

May 21, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. ET

We all fall victim to emotional eating from time to time. But if it's part of your lifestyle, it could be damaging to your health. Here's how to quit the habit of eating as a way to comfort yourself.

Woman eating a burger

Think about your day-to-day eating habits. Do you eat when you're not even hungry or continue to eat when you're already full? Do you pick up a food treat when you're stressed, have had a fight with your sister or a terrible day at the office? When you're at home and bored, do you automatically head into the kitchen for something to munch on? Is parking yourself in front of the TV and eating chips or ice cream the norm for you? These are all signs of an emotional eater, and if you answered yes to any of these questions, these eating habits could be causing you to gain weight, not to mention put you at risk for heart disease and even depression.

That's the bad news. But the good news is that you can break the habit of emotional eating. It'll take some time and effort, but your health and well-being are worth it. Here's how you can put an end to your emotional eating habits.

Identify your triggers

Before you can quit the habit of emotional eating, you need to understand what brings it on. A good way to gain insight on what causes your emotional eating is to keep a journal of your eating habits. Consider how you were feeling when you ate, how hungry you actually were, what you ate, the time of day and what else you were doing at that time (such as if you were surfing the net, for example, or if you had just gotten off the phone with your mother-in-law). Once you have several days' worth of your eating jotted down, analyze the information to see if you can recognize any patterns. You may find it eye opening, since we often mindlessly chow down on snacks when we're not even remotely hungry.

Find something else to do

Once you know your triggers to emotional eating, you need to find something healthy to do in their place. After all, your triggers won't go away, so you still need a way to help you cope. Consider practicing deep breathing. Or try drinking water or an herbal tea instead of eating. If the situation permits, go for a short walk (the urge to reach for food may decrease). It may be easier to adopt these habits if you practice them outside of your emotional moments. Deep breathing, for one, can take time to master, as we are all constantly on the go, and tuning out to be in the moment and take deep breaths is more challenging than many of us realize.

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