6 Ways to Stop Eating Your Emotions

February 3, 2022 ,

There is a close connection between our emotions and our diet. For some people, food is a way to manage their emotions. Some eat when they are stressed while others eat because they are sad. Many will seek comfort in food, and sometimes, without even realizing it.

Emotional eating usually occurs impulsively and is a form of a loss of control. Food can help to momentarily stifle emotions but the effect is usually short-lived. In addition, the foods chosen to comfort us usually have a high fat and/or sugar content. It may also be that a large amount of food is consumed, leading to overconsumption.

Those who would like to break this cycle should first ask themselves the reasons why they eat their emotions. Is this something you’ve been doing since you were a kid? Is this a new phenomenon? Working with a psychologist can also help you to address all of these questions. They can also help you to find healthier strategies for managing your emotions.

Another beneficial tool would be to identify your triggers. For some, it may be helpful to record in a food diary the times when they tend to eat their emotions. Was it after a stressful day at work? On a day when you slept too little? After an event that shocked you? This can allow you to identify situations that lead to more emotional eating.

Here are now 6 tips to help you stop eating your emotions:

1 – Eat enough during the day

Not eating enough on a daily basis can predispose you to eat more of your emotions. Especially if you impose too many calorie restrictions on yourself. If in doubt, it may be helpful to work with a dietitian who will be able to assess whether your diet meets your needs.

2 – Be satisfied with the foods you consume

Similar to caloric restrictions, some impose cognitive restrictions instead, i.e. restrictions in the form of food bans. For example, they will not allow themselves to consume foods such as chocolate, chips, desserts, even if they have a strong desire to consume these foods. Foods that bring pleasure are therefore completely eliminated from the diet. In the long run, if this type of restriction is too great, it can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s diet. This dissatisfaction can lead to episodes of emotional eating.

3 – Taking the time to eat

If you eat your emotions, try to slow down the speed at which you eat when it happens. Be aware of each bite and try to appreciate the flavors and sensations that the food gives you. Take the time to chew well. For example, you can try to put your fork down between each bite, or chew between 5 to 10 times each bite. If your habit of eating fast is long-standing, slowing down the speed at which you eat will initially feel very counterintuitive, but with a lot of practice and patience you can get there. To learn how to chew better, read the article 5 Tips for Better Chewing and Better Digestion.

4 – Limit screen time during meals

People tend to eat faster when they consume food in front of screens. They are also less focused on their internal signals telling them that they have eaten enough, for example. This complicates the identification of moments when there is emotional eating.

5 – Learn to recognize your hunger and satiety signals

Learning to recognize your hunger and satiety signals is a very beneficial exercise, which will allows you to recognize what kind of hunger you feel. For example, do you feel a tightness in the stomach or gurgling? Do you mainly want to eat a dessert after your meal because that’s what you’ve always done? Or do you want to eat ice cream because this food is associated with comfort? In short, it will help you to identify the times when you are emotionally eating.

6 – Avoid being hungry

Recognizing your hunger signals will allow you to identify if you are hungry during the day. The goal is to limit these moments as much as possible. To achieve this, it is generally recommended to eat at regular times during the day, in order to ensure a well-distributed daily energy intake. It may even be beneficial to add snacks between meals. Also avoid spending too much time without eating, i.e. more than 5-6 hours.

Finally, do not hesitate to turn to health professionals for psychological or nutritional support if you are not having success on your own.

Sources :

* Avery, A., Anderson, C., & McCullough, F. (2017). Associations between children’s diet quality and watching television during meal or snack consumption: A systematic review. Maternal & child nutrition, 13(4), e12428.

* Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat Behav. 15(2):197-204. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005.

* Limbers, C. A., & Summers, E. (2021). Emotional Eating and Weight Status in Adolescents: A Systematic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(3), 991.

* Van Strien T. (2018). Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity. Current diabetes reports, 18(6), 35.

* Warren, J., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283. doi:10.1017/S0954422417000154

Author

Alexa Schmidt
A registered dietitian from the Université de Moncton, N.B., Alexa likes to stay up to date with new trends in nutrition and is committed to demystify what is true and false based on scientific evidence. Whether it is for nutritional advice related to gastrointestinal problems, weight loss or cardiometabolic diseases, she will be able to inform you properly. Alexa successfully completed the FODMAP certification from Monash University.

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