How to stop emotional eating before it starts
Each of us has been there. The bag of potato chips is staring you down practically begging you to tear it open and devour the entire package. But the problem is you are not doing this because you are ravenously hungry. Instead you are feeling an emotional void that is insatiable to fill, except with food. The drive to use food for comfort when feelings such as boredom, loneliness, anger, frustration, or sadness appear is what is referred to as emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to lessen or avoid bad feelings or even to prolong good feelings.
It’s the little things over the course of a day that can build into a crescendo of emotions. For example, your day may start off really well. But after getting pulled over for speeding, being snubbed by coworkers at lunch, or having someone ask you a nosy question, you’ve had it and all you want to do is comfort yourself with anything tasting sweet and savory, salty and crunchy or gooey.
To prevent emotion-driven situations making you want to take a nose-dive into the ice cream carton for instant gratification you need to realize that overeating is not a problem with food – it’s a problem of self-soothing. What you are actually seeking is not to stuff your face but to calm down, de-stress, feel better and to get a grip.
Having a plan to prevent or control these food-seeking meltdowns can help also prevent excess weight gain and using food as a crutch in dealing with stressful situations. Here are some ways to make this happen from the book “50 more ways to soothe yourself without food” by Susan Albers, PsyD.
· Have a healthy eating mantra
When you get the urge to emotionally eat, repeat out loud a phrase helping to break the cycle of seeking out food for comfort. Examples include – “what am I really hungry for?” or “what do I really want”, or “what you think you become.” Or come up with your own mantra that keeps you focused on what you are really trying to seek and soothe.
· Choose music as therapy
Listening to music is extremely soothing. When you’ve had a bad day or are feeling the urge to eat emotionally, music can alleviate stress helping to change our energy level and relaxing us. Depending on the music it can create optimism and stimulates creativity. Play the genre of music that soothes you the most.
· Practice Tai Chi
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese art of gentle movement and exercise evolving out of a self-defense method which encourages mindfulness and a deeper connection with our body. Regular practice of this movement can lead to improved blood flow and circulation, strengthened immune system, lowered blood pressure, reduced joint pain and a higher quality of sleep.
· 5-5-5-5-5 exercise
Dr. Albers suggests dealing with emotional eating by moving and acting in a different way to distract yourself from unnecessary eating. Here are suggestions from the book to write down on a piece of paper and hang it somewhere reminding you how to create a diversion. Write down the following:
1. 5 people you can call when you feel down or upset or to vent with.
2. 5 ways to relax – examples might be take a hot shower, shut your eyes, put your feet up, etc.
3. 5 places you go to calm down – your bed, a quiet room, outdoors, etc.
4. 5 things you can say to yourself such as “I can do this,” or “This too will pass.”
5. 5 activities to distract yourself – start a puzzle, watch a movie, run an errand, etc.
· Take a break from technology
We live in a world of constant connection. This can be good on the one hand but also bad when it causes feelings of negativity or undue stress. Find times during the day to completely unplug – no phone, computer, tablet, laptop or any other device that regulate your feelings. Create quiet moments to calm and soothe giving yourself a much deserved time-out, allowing you to take a deep breath, relax and be present in the moment.
Here are other ideas and alternatives to consider when emotional eating strikes:
· If depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your cat or dog, or look at favorite photos of happier times.
· If anxious, use your pent-up nervous energy by dancing to your favorite songs, taking a brisk walk, or jumping rope.
· If exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a warm bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
· If bored, read a good book, watch a funny movie or TV show, go for a walk or hike on a nature trail, or turn to an activity you enjoy.