11 March 2014 Three Steps to Stop Emotional Eating

When I mention “emotional eating” or “cravings” as I introduce topics that I will be covering during the ten week weight loss class that I teach, many of my students knowingly smile and say, “That sounds like me.” Emotional eating or eating for reasons other than physical hunger is a challenge for many people trying to lose weight.

Do any of these reasons for eating sound familiar to you?

  • I was feeling anxious about my meeting with my boss so I drank a chocolate shake.
  • I was feeling bored so I went back for seconds, even though I was full.
  • I was feeling sad that my friend had end-stage cancer. I was able to help her by listening; however, I ate a chocolate bar after I hung up on the phone with her, even though I was not even hungry.
  • Since I am worried about money, I tend to eat when given the change to do so for free, regardless of how hungry I am.

Before one can change a behavior, one needs to learn what he/she is already doing and why. Are you eating because you are hungry or because you are anxious, sad, happy, or just plain bored? Try following these 3 steps to help prevent eater's remorse.

Step 1: Track your hunger and emotional cues for one week.

Print out this this “Food Diary including Emotional Cues” and place it in a handy place in your kitchen so you become mindful of your eating cues even before you head for the refrigerator or pantry. The only way to become more aware of your current habits and eating patterns is to write it down and track it.

Are you actually hungry? If you are unsure, try the 4 D's to test:

  • Distance yourself from the food (get out of the kitchen)
  • Delay yourself from eating for 10-15 minutes
  • Distract yourself by doing something that keeps your attention
  • Then, Decide do you still feel hungry?

Step 2: Analyze your eating patterns.

On the chart, which category contains the most number of 5's? What did you learn about yourself?

What are your emotional triggers?

1.Are there certain stressful situations which trigger overeating?
2.Are you eating out of boredom?
3.Do you eat to reward yourself?

Step 3: Pause when cravings hit. Try a pre-planned healthy alternative

Once you have determined the reasons you are eating, then you can plan some healthier alternatives to prevent eating for emotional reasons. Write your plan on a piece of paper for accountability.

Here are some ideas from some of my clients:

  “When I come home from a busy day of work and feel like I could eat everything in the kitchen, I stop and make myself a cup of hot herbal tea and drink it slowly. I wait until I feel calmer before I tackle supper and issues at home.”

  “Whenever I make supper, I chew a piece of gum to prevent me from nibbling while cooking.”

  “After supper, I clean up and get out of the kitchen. I started walking on the treadmill during the nightly news. Thus, I now connect the news on TV with my walk on the treadmill.”

Plan ahead using some of these healthy alternatives:

  • Make a phone call to a far-away friend
  • Plan to play a game of tennis with a friend during a particularly vulnerable time of the day
  • Take a bath
  • Paint your nails
  • Read a good book
  • Take a 5-minute relaxation break - breath deeply or gaze out the window to clear your head
  • Go for an invigorating walk
  • Take a quick stroll around the office but steer clear of the cafeteria or vending machine
  • Make daily exercise a priority because it is a powerful stress reducer.

Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to stopping emotional eating and sabotaging your good habits.

Martha Henze

MS, RD, Traveling Taste Buds, LLC

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Eating Disorders/Binge Eating Disorder Weight Loss/Emotional & Mindful Eating

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