30 September 20193 ways you can stop emotional eating today

When I mention "emotional eating" or "cravings" during the ten week weight loss class 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 a 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 the phone, even though I was not even hungry.

  • Since I am worried about money, I tend to eat when given the chance to do so for free, regardless of how hungry I am.

Before a person can change a behavior, they need to learn what they are already doing and why. Are you eating because you are actually hungry or alternatively, 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.

One way to become more aware of your current habits and eating patterns is to track. Keep notes in your MyNetDiary tracker. Are you actually hungry? If you are unsure, try the 4 D's 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 holds your attention

  • Then, Decide if you are still hungry

Step 2: Analyze your eating patterns.

Observe your MyNetDiary tracker notes. What did you learn about yourself?

What are your emotional triggers?

  • Are there certain stressful situations that trigger overeating?

  • Are you eating out of boredom?

  • 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 new 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."

"When 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. I now mentally connect the TV news with my walk on the treadmill."

Plan ahead using some of these healthy alternatives to eating:

  • 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 - breathe 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.

Remember, learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step. This can help you work on emotional eating so you are not sabotaging your plan for a healthy lifestyle.

Originally published: 11 March 2014
Updated: September 26, 2019

Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN

Martha recently completed her Masters of Public Health (MPH) in global epidemiology and aims to help people improve their health on a population basis around the world.

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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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