We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves. When we do, we tend to reach for junk food, sweets, and other comforting, but unhealthy foods. You might reach for a tub of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work.
Emotional eating is the use of food to make yourself feel better or to fill your emotional needs rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse. Afterward, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism, that’s a bad sign. You get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good now, but the feelings that triggered eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed. Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.
No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can learn healthier ways to deal with your emotions, avoid triggers, conquer cravings, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.
To stop emotional eating, you must find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment.
Alternative Coping Mechanisms:
Once you’ve identified the triggers, it’s essential to replace emotional eating with healthier coping mechanisms. Activities like exercising, meditating, journaling, or talking to a friend can help redirect your focus and alleviate emotional distress. Find activities that bring you joy and provide an outlet for your emotions, allowing you to break free from the reliance on food for comfort.
Practicing mindful eating is another effective strategy to break the cycle. When you eat, pay attention to the physical sensations, taste, and texture of the food. Slow down, savor each bite, and listen to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness. By being present in the moment, you can differentiate between genuine hunger and emotional cravings, helping you make healthier choices.
Building a Support System:
Surrounding yourself with a supportive network can make a significant difference in breaking the cycle of emotional eating. Seek out friends, family, or support groups who can provide encouragement, accountability, and guidance during challenging times. Sharing your journey with others who understand and empathize can empower you to overcome emotional eating habits.
Seeking Professional Help:
In some cases, emotional eating may be deeply rooted in underlying emotional or psychological issues. Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can provide valuable insights and strategies for addressing the root causes of emotional eating. A trained professional can guide you through the process of breaking the cycle and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
Combining these 4 strategies will help you not only heal any psychological issues you may suffer from, but also heal your relationship with food. You can even indulge in your favorite foods and feel full on much less. It takes time for the body’s fullness signal to reach your brain, so taking a few moments to consider how you feel after each bite—hungry or satiated—can help you avoid overeating.