When you’re feeling stressed, the need to find a source of comfort is natural. For some people, that’s eating food. Stress eating or emotional eating is a very real problem that can lead to serious consequences, both physical and mental. Maybe you need to eat to deal with uncomfortable issues or you use food as a reward. Maybe your irritability can only be cured by your favorite food or salty or sweet foods are the only way to get you to relax. These habits can leave negative long-term effects and it’s important to curb them as soon as possible. At first, it may seem difficult to control or to even identify the moments you’re emotional eating, but there are some expert-approved tips to help you keep your emotional eating at bay.
Exploring your triggers is essential in monitoring your emotional eating. Before you can change, you need to come up with an effective strategy and that means identifying what needs to be changed. Emotional eating is often called “mindless eating” and this is because there’s a certain lack of awareness when your unchecked needs and habits take over.
A crucial step to achieving awareness is being aware of how you feel the moment just right before you’re about to eat. Why do you want to eat right now? Why this particular food? Emotional eating can be your body’s way of saying it’s deprived. To study patterns, keep a food diary. Note the time, type of food and the emotions you’re associating with before, during and after you eat. Also record how full you felt after. This can help in determining whether you’re eating for the right or the wrong reasons.
There’s a physiological reason for craving sweet and salty foods when you’re stressed. Cortisol is a hormone that triggers this craving and is produced at higher levels when you’re under stress. Stress management, then, should be a key component of your strategy.
Explore other, healthier ways to handle stress. Set up a support system of friends who you can speak to, write about your issues in a journal, or get into the habit of regular physical activity. Even simple coping mechanisms can help, like putting on music, hugging your pet, or taking a moment to enjoy the view from your window. The key is to find an activity that isn’t related to food.
Mindfulness is a great way to build a keen sense of awareness and to take control of your actions. You can even practice mindfulness while you’re eating. Forms of mindfulness exercises include meditation, deep breathing, or even cleaning up your house. Mindfulness can also involve simply observing your thoughts. Instead of ignoring them or deflecting through emotional eating, take a moment to focus. Sit back and listen instead of working against your jumbled, stressed out thoughts.
Working to change your emotional eating habits can take some time and if you can’t eliminate it, then at least consider healthier options. It can take some getting used to, but choose fresh and nutritional foods over junk food.