Sometimes, it isn't hunger that causes us to reach for our favorite foods. Moods and emotions can also impact our relationship with food and they can interfere with our ability to stick with a healthy eating plan. Emotional eating can be triggered by stress, depression, loneliness, overwhelming job and family pressures, or by a traumatic life event. Even happiness can set it off. People who are susceptible to emotional eating may regard food as a distraction, look to it for comfort, or over enjoy it when they have something to celebrate. If emotional eating is getting in the way of achieving your weight-loss goals, the good news is that you can change this pattern of behavior by putting a healthy plan in place. Here are six ways to get started.
Remove temptations from your kitchen.
Out of sight, out of mind or at least, out of your mouth. One of the easiest ways you can break your habit of reaching for unhealthy foods when your emotional triggers kick in is to simply remove them from your house. If you don't have a pint of ice cream in the freezer, you're less likely to indulge in it. To help maintain a healthy lifestyle, plan a monthly cupboard, pantry, fridge, and freezer cleaning to throw away any unhealthy foods that may have crept back in. When you're at the grocery, be sure to avoid adding chips, cookies, and other baked goods and junk foods to your shopping cart (a good way to achieve this is to strictly follow a healthy shopping list and never go to the store hungry). If your family insists on having certain unhealthy foods around, ask them to store their foods in an out-of-eyesight snack drawer or cabinet.
Keep a journal.
The power of the pen is mightier than the fork. If you know you're not actually hungry, but a strong emotion is driving you toward eating, record your feelings in a journal along with the type and amount of food you ate (or what you were tempted to eat, if you refrained). This will help you make connections between your emotions and the foods that currently satisfy them. For example, some people turn to cookies or cake when they're upset because indulging in sweets makes them feel better in the moment. Understanding the connection between your emotions and these unhealthy foods can help you create a strategy for countering such urges. Begin by training yourself to reach for a healthy snack, such as an apple with some no-sugar-added natural peanut butter, instead of junk food the next time your emotions start to get the best of you.
There's no better way to channel your emotions than through your hobbies and talents. Instead of focusing on food, tap into other areas that bring balance to your life and make you happy. Do you like to paint? Dance? Take photos? Whenever you feel an emotional food trigger coming on, engross yourself in a fun, relaxing activity to help you take your mind off of your emotions and eating. And remember, even simple activities like listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, or calling a friend can also help preoccupy your mind and keep you from busting open that bag of chips.
Cook something healthy.
If you make the effort to prepare a wholesome meal or snack instead of grabbing fast food or junk food in a moment of weakness, you'll have made a good start on controlling emotional eating. (In fact, the act of cooking in itself is an effective distraction.) Healthy home-prepared meals and snacks made with fresh vegetables and fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and good unsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil actually taste better and keep you feeling satisfied longer! In addition, the healthy meals and snacks you prepare yourself will provide you with many more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients than you'd get from fast food or junk food and they'll keep you on track with your weight-loss goals. Plan ahead and cook once to eat twice, storing extras in single-serving containers so that when you are truly hungry (not emotionally hungry), you'll have something healthy and delicious to enjoy on the spot.
Take stock of your emotions.
Before you grab that doughnut, take a moment to think, is this going to make me feel better? Sometimes, you just need to step back and have a moment of clarity. Or if this doesn't work, consider bargaining with yourself: Tell yourself you'll wait 20 minutes, and if you're still hankering for that doughnut, allow yourself a small piece and toss the rest, or put some in the freezer and treat yourself to a bite another day. When emotions overwhelm us, our first instinct may be to reach for something sweet, salty, or fatty, but these empty-calorie foods are not the ones our bodies need to really feel good. The next time you're tempted to solve your problems or celebrate with food, be sure to weigh the positive and negative consequences. Yes, you may feel a little better right after a few bites of cheesecake, but within an hour, you'll likely start regretting it & and worse yet, seek solace in more of the same.
Relieve stress and improve your mood with exercise.
When you work out, you release endorphins, also known as feel good hormones, which can boost your mood and also help prevent bouts of emotional eating. Schedule a regular time slot to work out during the week (if you do so, you'll be more likely to keep that appointment). Working out alone is a great time to contemplate emotional issues and exercising and chatting with family or friends can be just the tonic you need. If a bad mood has kept you indoors all day, head outside for some fresh air. Not only will you feel revitalized but you'll also curb your hunger and be less tempted to seek food therapy in the kitchen when you get home.