Emotional eating occurs when we eat unhealthy food to cope with negative emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, boredom, or stress. If you’ve been experiencing relationship conflicts, work stress, sleep deprivation, health problems, or financial strain, you might turn to food as a source of comfort. However, it’s hard to control emotional eating if it becomes a habit.
It’s no surprise that so many people turn to comfort food when they’re at emotional low points—research has shown that foods with lots of carbohydrates, sugar, or fat affect your brain chemistry. For example, consuming a carb-heavy snack leads to a boost in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with feelings of contentment. And eating sugary or fatty foods stimulates the brain’s reward pathways, resulting in a feeling of pleasure, making it hard to stop emotional eating once it releases those positive feelings.
Unfortunately, while emotional eating may briefly produce positive feelings, those feelings fade quickly. Many people, especially those who are trying to stick to a diet, feel guilty after overeating. And because guilt is a negative emotion, it can lead people to start craving unhealthy food again.
So how can you stop emotional eating and break out of the vicious cycle? Start by trying the strategies below.
Look for stress relievers. If you often find yourself eating when you’re stressed out, you should identify other ways to cope with your stress. For example, you could try meditation, yoga, or even going for a brisk walk or run. Finding other outlets for your stress can help with controlling emotional eating impulses.
Look for activities to keep your mind engaged. If you often eat out of boredom, look for activities that will keep you busy. Try a new hobby, read a good book, or tackle a crossword puzzle.
Consider the source of your hunger. It’s easy to confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger. Before reaching for your favorite food, pause for a moment and ask yourself why you want to eat. If you’re physically hungry, you’ll feel it in your stomach, and just about any food (including healthy foods) will sound good because they’ll give you the fuel you need. If you’re emotionally hungry, you’ll likely crave specific foods and have a hard time getting the idea of eating off your mind.
Keep a food diary. Record everything you eat, and make notes about the emotions you were feeling before and after you ate. This diary may help you identify connections between your eating habits and moods, allowing you to be more mindful about your food consumption and ideally stop emotional eating over the long term.
Get plenty of sleep. Make time for seven to eight hours of sleep per night. When you’re well-rested, it’s a lot easier to control emotional eating than it is when you’re tired.
Consult a medical weight loss doctor. If controlling emotional eating on your own seems overwhelming, it may be time to talk to a doctor. The medical doctors at Diet Doc can create and supervise a medical weight loss plan specifically aimed at curbing emotional eating. Call us to set up a consultation today.