Emotional eating is a common coping mechanism used to deal with stressful situations. Fear not– it completely able to be stopped.
By Rachel Hershenberg, PhD
I’m a stress eater. The worse I feel, the more I eat. Why do i constantly find myself reaching for more food?
One major culprit could be that you are eating mindlessly. In other words, you are distracted by the overwhelming thoughts in your head and the weightiness of your emotional experience. You may be in the habit of sitting, say, with an open bag of chips or an open can of your favorite nut butter, and going in for handful after handful or spoonful after spoonful. It’s not until time has elapsed—say 20 minutes—that you take a step back and realize how much you consumed while you were rehashing that awkward conversation with your boss, or thinking about all that you had to do before you could go to bed.
A second culprit could be that you are emotional eating. That is, you are aware that you feel bad—perhaps sad, lonely, or anxious—and you are eating because it will help you momentarily forget how bad you feel. Not only will it temporarily dull your negative emotions, it will also feel deliciously satiating for those few moments. The physiological rush is addicting, which makes the habit even harder to kick.
How can I start to change my habit of stress eating?
If you relate to mindless eating, emotional eating, or both, then you are not alone. To work on reducing the likelihood that you will stress eat, follow these few suggestions:
Start to monitor your stress eating habits. What you keep track of can be short and simple—try to note details such as time of day, location, and what you ate.
PREDICT AND PREVENT: Use your data to anticipate and ward off future episodes.
Time of day and location: Let’s say you catch yourself stress eating at 9 p.m. in the kitchen most weeknights. You can start to plan alternate activities for that time, in a different location from the kitchen.
What you ate: You may have a few specific foods that trigger cravings. Those may be the foods that you allow yourself to eat—but only when you are outside the house. In other words, don’t stock up on those foods at the supermarket. You can also try repackaging these foods into individual portions that you can grab when you want one.
IDENTIFY: Determine the sources of stress that dominate your thoughts and feelings. To do so, you might try journaling. After your entry, reread what you wrote. You may be able to distinguish problem areas to actively work on that make you feel anxious because you feel uncertain or out of control. For example, you may be stressing about an upcoming work presentation. You may see that you can control the level of effort and preparation you put into it, but you need to accept the uncertainty of how it will be received. Breaking it down in this way might help you to gain a little perspective and feel less anxious.
BE MINDFUL: Savor your meals and snacks at their designated times. The desire to feel good when you eat and to feel good from what you eat is completely legitimate! Try to minimize distractions, both external and internal, so that you can enjoy your food when it is your time to eat.
LET GO OF GUILT: You will get off track. And that’s OK! Beating yourself up will only increase feelings of stress (making you even more likely to continue to stress eat). Try to remind yourself that you are human and that new habits are not formed overnight. Rather than getting caught up in guilt or shame, just ask yourself: If you had a do-over, what might you do differently? Then try to imagine yourself putting that strategy into practice. You will have countless opportunities to practice because the urge to stress eat will arise again and again. Do your best, and be kind and forgiving toward yourself.
Printed as “Ask The Therapist: End Emotional Eating”, Spring 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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