Emotional eating is a lot like any other bad habit, including smoking or drinking. It can become an addiction that can have major consequences on your health. But emotional eating is a particularly hard habit to break—in many cases, even more so than quitting smoking or giving up drinking—because there’s no way to avoid food. If you’re a smoker trying to quit, you can completely steer clear of your triggers (outdoor smoking breaks with colleagues, happy hour with friends, even the convenience store where you usually buy your cigarettes). But we all need to eat, so there’s no way to remove the trigger if you’re an emotional eater.
So, how do you break the habit? Use these tips to end the emotional eating cycle:
Organize your eating. Start by creating a regular eating schedule, which consists of a healthy breakfast, a moderate lunch and dinner, and a snack or two, if needed, to keep hunger in check. (That’s what I recommend on the Best Life plan.) Then, don’t allow yourself to eat outside of these times. This simple act will make you more conscious about what you eat and when you eat it. Plus, when you distribute your calories evenly throughout the day, you’ll maintain your energy levels and potentially even help stabilize your mood, both of which can help you ward off emotional eating.
Make eating a conscious activity. In most cases, someone who eats because of emotions isn’t even aware they’re doing it. They’re eating unconsciously or mindlessly, which makes it very easy to overdo it on the calories. By following a regular eating schedule, you’ve already taken a big step toward becoming a more mindful eater. To take it a step further, try to make each meal an event. Sit down without any distractions, take the time to savor your food, and appreciate each bite. You’re much more likely to take pleasure out of the experience (rather than feel guilty) if you do it this way.
Identify emotional eating triggers. The five most common reasons for emotional eating are: boredom, stress, loneliness, emotional turmoil (including depression or emotional issues caused by early childhood trauma), and the need to fill a void. Once you figure out your trigger, you can then come up with a fix. For instance, if boredom is what drives you to eat, create a list of things you’d like to do or try, whether it’s a craft project or learning a foreign language. Then, whenever the urge strikes, take out your list and try to tackle the first item. If loneliness is your problem, figure out why you’d rather eat than get together with a friend (a food/mood journal can help you pinpoint the reason). Then, broaden your social horizons: Join a club or take a class at the gym to meet new people. Also note that some dietary changes, such as including more omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish), vitamin D (found in milk and fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel) and B vitamins like folate (found in nuts, legumes and many fruits and veggies) and B12 (found in lean and low-fat animal products) can also boost your mood, which may help curb emotional eating.
Take it one step at a time. Be patient with yourself. Breaking any habit takes time, and you’ll likely experience some setbacks along the way. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you eat only when you’re hungry and you turn to your healthy coping techniques when you’re feeling sad, upset or lonely. This will help you shed those unwanted pounds, and lead a healthier and happier life.
For more on emotional eating, check out TheBestLife.com.