Five Tips for Overcoming Emotional Eating
While many are breathing a sigh of relief now that the holidays are over, the struggle for others is just beginning. Post-holiday depression, or “post-holiday blues,” is a reality for many Americans. Statistics suggest there is a 15% increase in individuals seeking treatment for depression and anxiety during the month of December, often related to relational issues, stress or financial concerns. Those blues may linger even after Christmas has come and gone.
Emotional eating commonly accompanies depression, stress and anxiety. Many people turn to food as a comfort or coping mechanism when they are feeling sad, anxious, angry, stressed, or depressed. Typically, eating to cope with one of these emotions becomes a mindless activity. Whether it’s a hamburger and french fries or a box of cookies, we can overindulge and overeat in an effort to feel good.
When emotional eating becomes a mindless hand-to-mouth action, it becomes dangerous. It can result in eating an excessive amount of food (binge eating), which results in guilt. To cope with the guilt, some will turn to excessive exercising, obsessive dieting or even purging.
Do you have a tendency to indulge in food to cope with feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety, and find yourself in a mindless eating trance, which ends in guilt? Overcome emotional eating with these 5 tips:
Distract yourself. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed and want to turn to food, find an alternative activity to distract you from emotional cravings. Particularly, activities that will keep your hands busy, such as knitting or crocheting, tinkering with your car, working on a carpentry project. Find an activity that interests you and shift your focus to that activity when you have the urge to eat.
Journal. Keep track of what you eat, when you eat and how you feel when you eat. In doing so, you will be more aware of what kinds of foods you are eating and how much you are eating. Journaling can also help you understand the connection between emotions and food. Over time, you will begin to see a pattern emerge. For example, you may see that when you are stressed, you eat excessive amounts of chocolate. Journaling what you eat and how you feel when you eat will help you determine the triggers that cause you to eat. When you are able to identify these triggers, you will be better equipped to develop coping strategies and deal with those triggers in a healthy manner.
Be a mindful eater. Emotional eaters tend to mentally disconnect from the act of eating. The hand-to-mouth motion is mindless; little thought goes into what or how much they eat. Mindful eaters take the time to absorb all sensations associated with eating, including smell, taste, texture. The mindful eater savors every bit, all the while paying attention to how they feel as they eat. When feelings are attached to eating, it is easier to keep track of what, how much and why we eat.
When you sit down to eat, take a moment to soak it all in. Enjoy the aroma of your meal. Remove all other distractions so you can focus on eating. Turn off the television and put away the book. When you eat, make eating your sole focus. When you do, this instance of eating, even if it is emotional, will be far more satisfying. In the same way, you will also be more mindful of the amount of food you eat, and better able to avoid overeating.
Exercise. Physical activity can do more to combat stress, depression and anxiety than eating. Exercise not only releases endorphins, which can improve mood and general outlook, it also strengthens the brain’s ability to think clearly and control inhibitions.
Sleep. If you are sleep deprived, you are more likely to eat more. Adequate sleep reduces stress and anxiety, which can lead to emotional eating. The more rest you get, the less irritable, depressed and anxious you’ll be. Studies show people who are able to get as much sleep as they want eat as many as 550 calories less than those who get less sleep than they want or need.
Eating is often emotional, and an experience that should be enjoyed. If you find yourself eating to cope with negative feelings, and often end up binging and then looking for ways to deal with the guilt of overeating, find an alternative stress reliever or coping mechanism. If you or someone you love suffers from emotional eating, seek professional help. Food addiction can lead to obesity resulting in numerous other health complications.
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