How to stop emotional eating: Three important steps
We’ve got the three best expert tips on breaking the cycle of feeding your feelings
Sometimes eating has very little to do with your actual hunger and is instead directly related to emotional triggers. Our emotions can have a powerful influence on our actions, especially eating. In fact, a study in Psychosomatic Medicine confirmed that people tend to consume food in order to self-medicate their feelings of stress or anxiety. If weight loss is on your list of resolutions for the new year, then applying techniques to controlemotional eating will definitely help you achieve that goal.
According to my colleague Natalie Shay, an expert specializing in stress, emotional eating,
and psychotherapy who practises at my clinic, these are the three most important ways to stop emotional eating:
- Become aware of your true hunger signals.
- Become aware of exactly which emotions drive your eating.
- Learn to stop punishing yourself every time you eat something that you are trying to avoid.
1. Become aware of your true hunger signals
First, drink a glass of water before a meal, this will help you see if you are just dehydrated and need to hydrate, or if it is true hunger that you’re feeling. Natalie recommends that you then begin your healing journey by creating a hunger scale that goes from one to 10: one represents when you feel so starved you can’t think straight, and 10 represents when you feel so full you can’t move. Before you eat a meal or snack, range your current level of hunger. At the end of your meal, write down your current level of hunger again. Try to stay between four and six before eating and six and eight afterward. You shouldn’t be so full that all you want to do is sleep.
2. Become aware of exactly which emotions drive your eating
Next, notice which emotions you experience at each meal, before and after you eat. Are you bored? Sad? Angry? Lonely? Try to be honest with yourself without being hard on yourself. Remember,
building self-awareness is a huge first step!
3. Learn to stop punishing yourself every time you eat something that you are trying to avoid
Finally, try to be aware of the negative messages you send to yourself and make a commitment to no longer beat yourself up. The easiest way to start this challenging task is to spend a week writing down any negative thoughts about yourself in a notebook. Throughout this process, you need to be patient — and honest. Research published inInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity shows that improving body image can enhance the effectiveness of weight loss programs based on diet and exercise. Positive self-talk is not only good for the soul, it’s also great for the waistline.
Each of these exercises should take no more than about five minutes. The key is to write down exactly how you are feeling at the moment, without thinking about it or editing yourself. Remember, although food feels like your enemy at times, you have brought it into your life as a coping mechanism. It has actually
helped you to get to where you are today. Once you become aware of your actions, you will see how simple it is to break old patterns and to free yourself from emotional eating.
To complement Natalie’s tips, here are some of my own:
1. Stick to the table: Many of us reward ourselves at the end of the day by kicking our feet up and grabbing a snack as we watch our favourite sitcom or catch up on Facebook and emails. Unfortunately, this behaviour prevents us from truly paying attention to how much we are eating. According to recent research,spending time in front of the television is linked to an increased consumption of unhealthy snacks and drinks — not to mention that advertising is more likely to spur your appetite for sweet indulgences if you already have a plate of food in front of you. Instead, plan your meals and snacks ahead of time and enjoy them at the table. You will find that not only do you eat less, you are more conscious of when to stop.
2. Get balanced: A glycemically balanced meal of protein, fats and low glycemic carbs will keep your blood sugar steady and help prevent incessant cravings. I recommend enjoying a protein shake for breakfast and a second as a mid afternoon snack. And for better appetite control at meal times, try consuming your protein first, your veggies second, and any starchy carbohydrates last (I recommend having the latter only once a day!). Of course, be sure to top your meal with a healthy fat — such as one tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of slivered almonds, or ¼ cup of avocado — to keep you full longer.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.