Turning to unhealthy comfort foods at times of stress is a sign of emotional eating as a way to cope with your feelings. Indulging in certain foods for reasons of celebration and comfort is a normal part of human culture. It’s okay to treat yourself to a piece of cake for your child’s birthday, or a warm bowl of macaroni and cheese on a chilly fall evening — even when you’re trying to lose weight.
A recent survey shows that roughly 38 percent of U.S. adults practice emotional eating at least once within a 30-day period. Emotional eating has been linked to an increased risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Furthermore, the types of foods people typically consume when engaging in emotional eating can actually worsen stress, and fail to address the root cause of the emotions.
Have you or your loved one been turning to foods to mask feelings of stress? The following tips can help you get a handle on emotional eating.
Journal your emotions
At times of stress, write down all your true thoughts and feelings in a notebook or online journal. Journaling your emotions can be a healthy, effective way to express and channel your feelings toward something other than food. If you’re not into writing or journaling, consider expressing your emotions through art or music.
Allow yourself to feel
It’s normal to experience negative emotions such as sadness and anger once in awhile. Instead of ignoring your feelings, pushing them away, or using food as a way to self-medicate, allow yourself to fully experience these feelings when they present themselves. Acknowledging that these emotions are part of being human can help you heal and feel better about yourself without having to turn to food.
Eat only when you’re hungry
Stress upsets the natural balance of your hunger hormones, and makes you feel hungry when you’re truly not. Consider keeping a food journal so you can track when and what you’re eating throughout the day. When you’re feeling the urge to eat out of stress, review your food journal to determine whether you truly need to eat out of hunger, or if you can see other patterns emerging.
Recognize your triggers
Try to figure out what makes you turn to emotional eating. Recognizing your triggers can help you prepare in advance, and develop new, healthier ways to manage stress that don’t involve eating. For instance, if you find yourself turning to emotional eating immediately after coming home from work, develop a new routine that has you going to the gym or visiting a quiet, calming bookstore instead.
Discover healthier stress management techniques
Massage, deep breathing, and yoga are just some healthy ways to manage stress that also offer a number of other therapeutic benefits. Find an activity that works best at relieving stress for you, and replace emotional eating with that activity. Exercise is often highly effective at relieving stress naturally, since exercise releases endorphins — chemicals that reduce pain and help you sleep better, which in turn reduces stress.
Need help losing weight and getting your diet back on track? Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers offer personalized weight-loss plans with consistent, professional support to help you reach and maintain your goal weight. Contact us today for a no-cost consultation!
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on November 6, 2017