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20 Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating

Aug 3, 2008
Do you find the minute you're at home alone you reach for the chocolate bars or tub of ice-cream? When things get stressful at work do you find yourself eating more take away and comfort food? You could be an emotional eater which means that instead of eating out of hunger; you eat in an attempt to soothe your emotions. Interestingly these habits can become so unconscious that you may not realize that you may be eating for emotional reasons such as boredom, loneliness or anxiety.

In our society 'having a pig out's is often associated with festivities, celebrations and fun. However, many studies suggest that 75 per cent of overeating is due to emotional eating.

Here are 20 top ways to overcome emotional eating:

1. Well known Australian Medical Herbalist, Miriam Young says that emotional eating is often fear-based and may be connected with low self-esteem.

For example if you eat lots of sweet food you may be trying to avoid your feelings and compensate for the fact that your life is 'sweet less'. Miriam says ask yourself, "What is it that you are thinking before you open that packet of biscuits? What is the emotion you are trying to avoid? What if you sat with the feeling and allowed it to surface, and observed the sensation/feeling without judgment."

By accepting those feelings a shift usually occurs.

2. Young says eating junk foods or comfort foods deplete the body of nutrients so that you end up craving more of those types of foods but are still left feeling unsatisfied and malnourished. Regularly detoxifying the body, eating from a wide variety of organic whole foods and taking organic colloidal mineral deficiencies and food cravings.

3. From a psychological perspective you can also observe your behaviours and increase you awareness. Does you emotional eating follow a pattern? Do you eat 'junk on the run' at lunch or do you fast all day and feast at night?

4. Ask yourself: Am I stuffing my face in order to stuff the feelings down as well? Look at what is stressing you out. Can you resolve the issue right now? If not, then what can you do in the mean- time to deal with those feelings? It's time to creatively brain storm.

5. When you let yourself feel the emotions rather than reach for the comfort foods you are also delaying the immediate gratification of food. This is like retraining the body and mind. Get to know yourself by asking: What am I feeling right now? Where do I feel that in my body? Can you draw a picture or play a song to describe what it feels like inside?

6. Create a food journal (you can even use your creative ability to decorate it) so that you can work out what times of the day and in what situations you feel strong emotions or comfort eat. Write with a pen to express from your heart or you can type up a journal on the computer.

7. Assess whether you are you emotionally or physically hungry? Ask yourself if you're really hungry. Rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10.

8. Oprah's personal trainer Bob Greene says to help distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger, you can "delay your eating past your normal meal times to experience the actual sensation of physical hunger". You may feel anxiety to start with but say with it and over time it will pass. He suggests consulting a health professional first if you have a condition such as diabetes.

9. Once you have increased your awareness and assessed the situation, you can work on some self-soothing tips. Before you go to the fridge or a fast food joint, stop, breathe and listen. Slow breathing can help you to tune into how you are feeling and help to let go of tension.

10. Create a pleasure list of all the things you like to do or have always wanted to do in order to build a connection with you. Go out to see a musical show or play, treat yourself to a massage, buy yourself a bunch of flowers, learn a new activity like playing an instrument or horse riding.

11. You could call a friend. This may sound like a game show crisis strategy, but to start with just calling someone you know who is supportive can be helpful and may develop into a reciprocal buddy system.

12. What things help you to relax and tune in to yourself? What about an aromatherapy bath and some soft music? If this isn't your bag, then what about getting outdoors in nature?

13. What helps you to let go? Do you find that you're always trying to be the perfect family member, parent and employee? However, dealing with emotions requires the opposite of trying it requires an ability to let go and let the emotions wash over you.

14. Start taking a stroll and build up to a longer walk. Walking releases endorphins (your body's natural happy drugs). Once you're out there walking, you may find that you feel energized and less emotionally distressed and may even forget about eating.

15. There are also some basic tips if you are starting to use food as a crutch. Try not to eat in front of the TV to prevent the "hand-mouth phenomena".

16. Chew your food, eat slowly and mindfully, which allows the stomach to register that it feels full. Bob Greene believes that TV denies us the pleasure of the actual eating experience.

17. Similarly, don't buy food in bulk, or have high fat, sugary foods in the house all the time, because you'll eat in bulk and that may lead to weight gain and health problems over time. Make sensible snack choices, such as popcorn instead of chips, yogurt instead of ice-cream or herbal tea instead of a hot chocolate.

18. Give up the overeating dieting cycle and find a happy medium. Don't go to the extreme, which is often based on 'all or nothing' thinking patterns.

If you just eat carrots for weeks you may eat more junk over time and send yourself packing on a guilt trip. Find healthy and realistic foods to eat and enjoy some foods that you find tasty in small amounts.

19. After putting these strategies in place for few weeks review your behaviours.

You'll know when you haven't really dealt with the issues associated with emotional eating when you swap food for something else like alcohol or gambling.

Counselling or other holistic therapies can assist when you feel stuck in this addiction cycle.

20. You could also join a support group to make you more aware of links between emotions and binge eating on the comfort foods. You may be able to support others too once you've managed your own eating and emotional behaviours.

It's the simple things that matter

At the end of the day, breaking old patterns requires making a commitment, turning into yourself and being consistent.

Think before you open the pantry, lolly jar or fridge.

Pre-plan nutritious and satisfying meals and you will be less likely to spiral out of control when life throws a challenge your way. Don't beat yourself up if you fall back into old habits, instead try and identify the patterns in your behaviour that led you down the binge-eating path in the first place Don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you. As a wise teacher once said, "A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step"
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