Do you ever find yourself diving into the pantry, or that tub of ice cream, when you’re feeling low or having a ‘bad’ day? Maybe you order a pizza when you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. You’re not alone - many of us have succumbed to eating an entire box of chocolates in bed, hoping to boost our positivity.
Finding comfort in food is common, and it’s a form of emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Sometimes our strongest food cravings hit when we’re feeling at our weakest points emotionally. We use emotional eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.
Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. The truth is, it usually makes us feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but we also feel guilty for overeating.
What causes emotional eating?
The hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating - relationship conflicts, work stress, fatigue, financial pressures, or even health problems. When you’re in emotional distress, you can often find yourself eating out of convenience, not enjoyment. As a result, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without even realising what you are doing.
Food can also be a distraction. Rather than facing or dealing with an intimidating, stressful or painful situation, you focus on eating comfort food instead.
Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the end results are often the same. The effect is temporary, the emotions return and you likely then bear the additional burden of guilt about setting back your weight-loss goal.
How do you stop emotional eating?
Try these tips to help you control your cravings and stop emotional eating:
Keep a food diary
- Tracking what you eat allows you to notice any patterns or circumstances that bring on your cravings. Over time you may begin to notice the connection between your mood and the food you’re eating. Try and do this consistently for 7 days. Write down what you eat, how much, what time, and how you're feeling when you eat. Also note down how hungry you are.
Prioritise ‘you’ time
- If you’re feeling stressed or burnt out, you may be more likely to emotionally eat. So it’s time to implement some self-care - yoga, meditation, journaling, breathwork, exercise, massage, or walking.
- Having a great support network around you is so important. Reach out to family, friends, and loved ones so they can support you when you feel yourself giving in to any cravings. You can also join my private Facebook group where myself and other women can cheer you on.
- When you feel the urge to grab a snack, opt for something that will nourish your body, such as fresh fruit, veggies with low-fat dip, nuts, or try some of my homemade healthy snacks. Roasted chickpeas are another great crunchy option with protein and fibre to keep you fuller for longer.
- We often reach for food when we’re bored. Distract yourself and substitute with healthy behaviour, such as taking a walk, reading, calling a friend, or working out.
Keep moving forward
- If you have an episode of emotional eating, it’s ok - forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that'll lead to better health.
At the end of the day, remember you are not alone. If you are still struggling to control your emotional eating, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you understand why you eat emotionally and learn coping skills, as well help you discover whether you have an eating disorder, which can be connected to emotional eating. Butterfly offers free and confidential support 24/7 - you can call their National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.