Munching through a packet full of chips out of boredom or indulging in a bowl of ice cream to cool yourself before the big interview; most of us have indulged ourselves in such an activity at some point in our lives. This type of mindless eating is called emotional eating.
Emotional eating is a state where people eat food not to satisfy their hunger, but to deal with situations or emotions such as boredom, anger, loneliness, resentment, and depression.[1,2] However, if you start doing it repeatedly without being consciously aware of it, emotional eating can take a toll on your health, weight and overall well-being.
Research has found that people who are overweight or obese are less capable of coping with their negative emotions, and indulge in eating greater amounts of food. Moreover, emotional eating is linked to difficulty in losing weight.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage emotional eating and prevent it from becoming a hindrance to your weight loss goals. The following strategies can help you deal with emotional eating.
- Observe and question your eating pattern: The next time you crave for snacks, ask yourself what has triggered it. A growling stomach, grouchiness, and trouble focusing are symptoms that you may experience if you are really hungry. Next time you reach for some snacks, take 5 seconds and ask yourself whether you are really hungry.[1,4]
- Maintain a journal: Keep a journal to understand your eating pattern. Write down what you eat along with the mood at that time. It may help you to identify the feelings that trigger your overeating.
- Find alternate ways to deal with emotions: Once you identify the things that make you overeat, find out things that you can do to deal with your emotions. For example: If you are feeling stressed, go for a walk or practice meditation; if you are bored, get yourself enrolled in a new activity or write an email.
- Indulge in stress-fighting foods: Deal with your night cravings with dark cherries. They help you to fall asleep by increasing the levels of a substance called melatonin in the body. If you are feeling stressed, go for green tea, white tea or matcha tea. They contain a substance called L-theanine that helps reduce stress levels. Other options include eating dark chocolate, legumes, fruits, nuts, etc.
- Carry your emergency snacks: Prepare yourself for stress-related snacking in advance by packing small portions of healthy snacks like nuts, popcorns (made with oil and salt only), fruits and veggies. Carry them with you always as a go-to snack option for emotion-induced cravings.
- Ask for help: If you find it difficult to deal with your emotional issues, do not hesitate to ask for help. Talk to your family and friends to see how they can help you. You can also seek professional help from a counselor, therapist or a nutritionist. They can introduce you to a therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you deal with negative emotions and change your eating habits.
Next time your hand reaches out to a packet full of chips, stop and think whether it is a good idea to indulge in mindless eating that can affect your health and well-being. Make one good choice today for a healthier tomorrow.
- Emotional eating [Internet]. [updated 2018 June; cited 2020 Feb 18]. Available from: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/emotional-eating.html.
- org. Emotional eating [Internet]. [updated 2017 Jul 6; cited 2020 Feb 18]. Available from: https://familydoctor.org/emotional-eating-in-children-and-teens/.
- Frayn M, Livshits S, Knäuper B. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. J Eat Disord. 2018 Sep 14;6:23. doi: 10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6.
- Cleveland Clinic. 5 strategies to help you stop emotional eating [Internet]. [cited 2020 Feb 18]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-strategies-to-help-you-stop-emotional-eating/.
- University of Rochester Medical Center. Emotional eating: how to cope [Internet]. [cited 2020 Feb 18]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4517.
- Kaiser Permanente. End emotional eating [Internet]. [updated 2018 Nov; cited 2020 Feb 18]. Available from: https://m.kp.org/health/care/!ut/p/a0/FchBDoMgEADAt_iAzeJWsfRWU_xCC7cN2SCJoCGkft_2OIMeP-gLf1PklvbC288uSGlSH6ekuDZ8o0d_VI6Z0ZUdAodV_se1pbAJOhoVveimwZCaoe-tAqPnCcwwajUNC2lr8cj5fj677gK5i2ME/.