There’s a reason diets don’t work. (Yeah, I bet you already knew that). But there’s also a reason why ‘simply eating healthy’ or ‘filling up on healthy foods’ doesn’t work either.
If we all only ate when we were hungry, obesity would be a rare issue indeed. If none of us drew comfort from sugary snacks and junk food, diabetes and heart disease might also be on the decline.
Our issues with food go way beyond hunger or even physical greed. For almost all of us, at least one issue we have in our complicated relationship with food is emotional eating.
The problem of emotional eating may end with the scale but it begins in the mind. Stress takes its toll on your life. When your defenses are compromised your health takes a hit and so do your emotions.
We all have good days and bad days. How we deal with the bad ones brings emotional eating into play. We look for comfort for our hurts. When we turn to food for comfort, we find a coping mechanism that won’t judge us, hurt us or tell us “no.” To complicate the issue, eating pleasurable foods can stimulate the release of endorphins just like exercise. So, after you eat, you feel better.
Emotional eaters use food to relieve stress. This can and does happen when the stressor is something horrific such as physical abuse or a bereavement. But it can also happen when we’ve had a bad day at work, or got frustrated over some small goal that’s just not coming together for us right now.
So how do you know you’re using food in this way? The first sign is obvious. You’re eating when you’re not hungry, so you’re putting calories into your body that you don’t need. You will gain weight when this happens. In light of the weight gain, examine other areas of your life.
- Have you been under stress lately at work or at home?
- Has anything traumatic happened in the last year?
- Are you dealing with a problem but haven’t found a solution?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions could mean that you’re indulging in emotional eating. Further sure signs that your current eating habits are rooted in emotional rather than physical needs include eating when you aren’t hungry, and choosing typical “comfort foods”, including:
- High fat foods like French fries, fried foods, and most types of “junk food”
- High carb foods like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes
- Sugary foods like ice cream, donuts, cookies, and cake
The good news is, there are ways to curb your emotional eating habits. Try the following steps:
Admit you have a problem. Recognize your emotional eating for what it is. Stop kidding yourself that you really are hungry.
Find other ways to release stress. Exercise is a great one. Hanging out with friends, family and loved ones is another. Losing yourself in a creative pursuit or a good book is my personal favorite.
Consider counseling. Emotional eating has nothing to do with dieting or changing your eating habits. It’s about gaining control over your emotions. Some emotional eating is triggered by past hurts we don’t even consciously think about any more.
A counselor might suggest things like visualization, practicing problem solving skills, relaxation techniques and family support. Visualization helps you to see your problems in a realistic way rather than blowing them out of proportion. A counsellor can also help you learn to see food as nutrition for the body and not an emotional crutch.
Bring your loved ones on board to help you. Your family or partner can learn your triggers for stress and be on the lookout for changes in your eating habits. They can help you be aware of the foods you’re eating, and when you’re reaching for the ice cream for all the wrong reasons.
Consider a yoga class (or at home yoga program). Yoga is an amazing way to get in tune with your body and its true needs. It enhances the mind/body connection so you’re less likely to eat when you aren’t hungry.
Change your definition of comfort foods. Eating for comfort is so much a part of human nature, it may be impossible to cut it out completely. Can you change your habits so you draw comfort from a big bowl of healthy soup, a fruit packed healthy smoothie, or a yummy herbal tea?
In the long term, finding new ways to solve your problems and deal with stress will push food out of the equation. You’ll feel great about finding solutions which will replace the dependence on food.
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