In our society food is a part of almost every activity: watching TV, sports events, weddings, funerals, parties, holidays, business meetings, play dates, basically any social get together has become an excuse to wheel out the food.
Emotional eating is something I have struggled with most of my life. With the stress of my husband coming and going, it is a constant struggle not to over eat. I have been raw vegan since the beginning of July, So my diet is very healthy. But the reality of all foods, is that you only need so much, no matter how healthy it is. Emotional eating is defined by any time you eat, not because you are physically hungry, but because you have feelings of boredom, depression, loneliness, fear, anger or frustration. Eating takes your mind off the feelings. Eating comforts you.
Eating in response to emotions and not hunger can result in many unwanted health problems, weight gain, and can even increase stress.
The first thing someone who struggles with emotional eating or binge eating should do, is identify the triggers. When you know why you are reaching for the bag of Cheetos, or driving two miles out of your way, just to simply "swing by" your favorite fast food joint, it is easier to prevent the situation. And we all know, that unless we prevent the situation from happening, we won't have the willpower to step away from the Twinkies.
The second step is to find new coping techniques. For me, it's keeping a food journal. If I force myself to write something down before I eat it, I think twice. I can also see how much I have eaten, to make a decision if I can eat or not. This may not work for a lot of people. The key is to find what works for you and stick to it.
Here are some more examples of coping techniques:
- Plan alternatives and change routines. Instead of sitting down in front of the TV with a bag of chips after a stressful day you could take a walk, take a long bath, call a friend, write in a journal, or read a book. Do something that removes you from the situation that results in overeating.
- Remove tempting foods. Don't buy the foods you crave when stressed! Having them in your house or desk is a disaster waiting to happen. If you really want to watch a favorite TV show in the evening, have nutritious low-calorie foods on hand. Better yet, find something to occupy your hands while you watch: give yourself a manicure, fold clothes or exercise.
- Know when and how to give in. It's all right to occasionally give in to cravings. When you really do want to eat chips, buy a single serving instead of a whole bag, or take a small portion out of the bag, put in a small cup, and put the bag away before you eat.
- When you eat, focus on the task at hand. Do not watch TV or read. Sit down at the table and leave when you are finished. Consciously eat slowly to give your stomach time to tell your brain when it's full. If you're still hungry after finishing your meal, wait 20 minutes before having a second helping or dessert
- Plan nutritious meals and snacks. If you wait until you are ravenous, you're more likely to reach for the wrong foods and to overeat. You may also find yourself nibbling all the way through meal preparation.
- Reward yourself when you eat in a healthy way. Buy yourself a novel or a new journal, go see a movie or get a massage. Rewarding yourself will increase the likelihood that you will maintain your new healthy habits.
Do not be ashamed to tell some one you are tempted to over eat. Talking it through with a friend might be just what you need to stay on track.
Making dietary changes, and especially those centered on emotional eating, is tough. Changing eating habits that have been ingrained for years takes time. Take it one meal and one day at a time. You will be successful in combating obesity and stress when you combine both diet and exercise.