How do I stop emotional eating? Techniques Overview.

My most difficult cravings for food often happened when I was experiencing a strong emotion–both highs and lows.  There is just something about eating that I find so comforting…  People use food to combat loneliness, fear, stress and anger, but many of us also eat when we’re happy (often because we were taught as young children to view food as a reward–particularly sweet, rich foods).  So, what should you do?

There are a lot of techniques for finding alternative ways to sooth yourself, but an even more effective, ideal approach would be to recon with your underlying emotions.  Here are some ideas:  

  • Find another way to soothe yourself!  Your gender and age don’t matter—we all need comfort.  If you’re getting too much of your comfort from food, you’re probably gaining weight.  Other ideas?  Make a running list of the things you enjoy…even the small stuff.  You’ll probably be surprised by the length of the list.  For example, at the office, I enjoy: (1) taking off my shoes, (2) sending a surprise email to an old friend, (3) reading the New York Times headlines, (4) drinking an ice-cold Diet Coke, (5) closing my eyes for a minutes and reminding myself all the ways I am lucky and should be grateful.  Sound corny?  Try it!  If you soothe yourself in other ways, you’re less likely to need food!      
  • Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or relaxation exercises…  Don’t know any?  Google “relaxation techniques”—enjoy!
  • Are you really hungry? I like to drink a glass of water and wait five minutes.  I usually forget that I was even thinking about food!!  If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not really hungry. Give the craving a little time to pass.  You may find it difficult at first, but the power of habit is amazing…for most people, once you develop the right habits, avoiding emotional eating is easy!!
  • Ask for help! Emotional eating can be a strong demon if you face it alone, but bring in the support of even one friend, and you’ll find that the demon is much weaker.  Lean on family and friends or consider joining a an online support group, like HealthyWage.
  • Take away temptation. Don’t keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they’re hard for you to resist. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’re sure that you have your emotions in check.
  • Keep a stock of good choices. Almost all of us eat for comfort at least once in a while.  Don’t write it off as a failure when it happens—it’s human.  Although you may not be able to stop it completely, you can at least make the emotional eating healthy.  Keep a supply of low-fat, low-calorie snacks around, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with fat-free dip, or unbuttered popcorn. Or try low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favorite foods.
  • Seek therapy. Sometimes self-help isn’t enough.  If the struggle becomes unbearable, there’s no shame in asking for a little extra assistance.  Call a therapist! 
  • Before I sign off, as always, I want to encourage you to visit HealthyWage, which provides health incentives for everyone.  Incentives make accountability fun, and studies show that incentives increase your odds of success.  Check it out!  Best wishes everybody!

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    1. Marty has some great ideas here. Things don’t have to be unbearable though to benefit from the help of a therapist or coach. At Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss we help people lose as little as 20 pounds to get fit to as much as 135 pounds for those whose health is at significant risk. Some of our clients have depression or anxiety or a relationship issue or job stress that interferes with their best intentions to get healthy. Some just have a lifetime of bad habits. Don’t wait for something bad to happen…

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