How to overcome emotional eating

Stress eating

If you reach for the ice cream scoop every time things get tough, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of adults admit that they’ve overeaten or eaten unhealthily  because of stress. Just about half of them regretted it later. 

But the first thing you need to know about emotional eating is that the connection may start when you’re young, says social worker Sydney Elggren of St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“To answer why food is so comforting, we have to look at infancy. When an infant cries, they usually need one of three things: food, a diaper change or sleep,” says Elggren. And when you feed them, they are comforted. As children grow older, lollipops, ice cream and other favorite snacks become rewards for things like good behavior or bringing home a good report card.

“I think it’s the culture we’ve grown up in. We learn that food can be comforting, gratifying and a quick way to change our mood chemistry,” says Elggren.

And that’s not always a bad or negative thing, she says. It’s okay to treat yourself, to occasionally celebrate or to mourn with food, but if that’s the only coping skill you have, it may cause health problems down the road.

Taking stress out of food

Determine your triggers

To really understand whether or not you’re an emotional eater, you have to think about the first thing you want to do when you’re triggered by a hardship.

While some people avoid food when they are stressed, many others turn to food under pressure. When you’re stressed out, your body produces cortisol, a stress hormone that begs for carbohydrates, sugar and foods high in fat.

Elggren recommends focusing more on your emotions at hand, and learning how to deal with your stress. You’ll find that those cravings might fade.

People who were sleep deprived ate an additional 667 calories per day compared to those who got adequate sleep. Fall asleep faster with these tips.

Decide whether or not you’re really hungry

Before you reach for that piece of cake, decide if you’re really hungry. Think about when you ate last, if your stomach is grumbling or if you’re feeling low on energy. Then rate your hunger on a scale from one to 10. If you’re in the six to 10 range, you probably are physically hungry, but anything else is most likely stress related. 

Stress on food

Start writing in a journal

If you’re trying to shift your mind away from food when the emotional eating tendency strikes, write down the activities you really want to try. Put the list in an area where you typically go to eat food like the pantry, closet or refrigerator. Ask self if you want to do something on the list instead of mindless eating. If you’re in the habit of going through the drive thru, put the list in your wallet.

Try these fast tricks.

Sipping on black tea lowers your cortisol levels, the stress hormone that triggers food cravings, by 47 percent.  Also, a foot rub may lower your cortisol levels, too.

Deep breathing can relax your mind and turn your attention away from mindless eating. Simply close your eyes, and breathe in and out 10 times.

Keep high calorie snacks out of the house   

The foods we tend to reach for when we’re emotionally eating are most likely comfort foods like chips, pizza and chocolate.

Keep your pantry stocked with healthier foods like fresh carrots with low-fat dip, air-popped popcorn and fresh fruit instead. That way if you do grab a snack, it’s low-cal.