You eat when you’re hungry. You also eat when you’re not. If you find yourself eating when you’re stressed, depressed, tired, angry, bored, lonely, frustrated or anxious, you are an emotional eater. It has happened to most of us at one time or another. When it becomes a habit, then you need to do something about it. Once you do, you’ll be able to stick to your weight loss goals.
Emotions Are Linked to Eating Habits
Why are our emotions connected to our eating habits? Simple. For many of us, it began when we were children. We were given a treat to calm us down, make us feel better, and as a reward for good behavior. Fifty years ago, doctors and dentists gave treats to children who were “good” patients. Over the years, we came to associate good feelings with treats. Today, we eat to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, and weddings. It is not uncommon for surviving husbands and wives to hold meal functions after the funeral of a loved one. We eat as a reward for completing something especially hard or challenging. We eat to make ourselves feel good when we are experiencing emotional ups and downs. We also eat when we watch TV, go to the movies or when we are bored. But, as we all know, eating like this continually over time results in weight gain.
Stress is one of the key reasons that people have for using food as a coping mechanism. It increases the level of cortisol in your body and enhances your desire for sweet and salty foods. Cortisol can also slow your metabolism, causing more weight gain than usual. Although there are products available which claim to be able to reduce cortisol levels, there is no clinical proof that they work. More importantly, you need to understand that the trigger to make you want to eat is not the cortisol, but the stress you are experiencing that produces it.
Recognizing Emotional Eating From Physical Hunger
Emotional hunger occurs rapidly in response to a stressful situation. You must eat right away. It is satisfied only by specific foods (cravings). The portions of these foods are unrelated to actual hunger. You’ll eat past the point of feeling full. Finally, emotional eating can make you feel guilty, making you want to eat more. These things do not happen when you are physically hungry.
Stop Overeating from Emotions
The first step to eliminating emotional eating is first to establish if you are an emotional eater. You need to do some soul searching to discover what triggers your eating habits. It might be your job, home life, relationships or a variety of other factors. Simply put, it is anything that makes you crave food other than when you are actually hungry. Keep a food diary. Write down everything that triggers the desire to eat. Once you recognize the triggers you can deal with them.
Be realistic! Just as it took time to develop the emotional triggers, it will take time to eliminate them. Consider some alternatives to eating when you are stressed.
- Exercise regularly A regular exercise program, walking or jogging can help reduce your stress levels, increase your energy, and make you feel better about yourself. When you see positive results, such as body toning and weight reduction, you’ll find the switch from eating to exercise as a coping mechanism much easier.
- Listen to music :There is truth in the old adage that “music soothes the savage breast.” Listen to your walkman or MP3 player as you exercise. Find time to listen to music before you sleep. Your music will make you feel better and may help reduce your need to eat. Try doing some yoga. It can help your mind and body to relax, eliminating stress.
- Find alternative food and drinks when you feel stressed. Instead of sugary drinks, try filling up with water. You will feel full. Instead of candies, try fruit. The natural sugar in fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth. Be creative in selecting what you eat and how it is prepared. The same meal(s) prepared the same way will become boring and make you want to snack. There are dozens of food shows on TV. Watch and learn. Many shows will discuss the preparation of wholesome foods and expand the range of foods that you can eat.
- Keep a food diary! Record your successes and non-successes alike. Learn from your mistakes. Beware of diet pills and supplements that promise one-step, easy solutions. Their claims are rarely confirmed in clinical trials and most never undergo clinical testing. Join a support group. It helps to have someone you can talk to who understands your problem. They can give you tried and true advice. In time, you’ll learn how to control your eating habits and become less dependent upon food as a coping mechanism.