The prevention of emotional eating primarily involves reducing stress, using constructive ways to understand and manage emotions, and by using food as fuel rather than a way to resolve or avoid issues. Adopt a new mantra: You want to eat to live, not live to eat!
As we have discussed, emotional eating is a symptom of an unmet need or issue. And we all have different triggers that feed into emotional eating. Realize that you’re not alone and you don’t have to manage this all by yourself either. Consider talking with a psychologist or registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) to formulate a plan to address your emotional eating. Another approach would be to join a local support group. Simply sharing experiences with others who are dealing with similar issues can be validating and therapeutic.
You’ve tracked your food intake and made connections to your emotional triggers. Now, consider the following emotional eating busters:
At the beginning of this blog series I described a mindfulness training exercise using a raisin (Raisin Your Mindfulness). Participants are challenged to eat a raisin like it’s the first time they’ve seen one. They are asked to observe the deep, purple-brown colors and the raisin’s wrinkles. To smell it. To feel it. And then to taste it.
The goal is to do this with your own meals and snacks. You’ll eat better and healthier foods if you don’t let your emotions guide your menu choices. Be present mentally when you are deciding what to put on your plate. And just like the raisin, eat slowly and taste every bite.
Establishing this mind-body-food connection, which takes practice, is the key to overcoming emotional overeating. Research studies have shown that when we learn stress reduction techniques, how to recognize hunger, and pay attention to taste, we are less likely to emotionally eat compared to individuals who don’t learn these techniques.
I know, I was skeptical at first too. Sounds hokey. Focus on your breathing… That’s going to help me to avoid emotional eating? Believe it or not, yes! Just by increasing oxygen intake to your brain helps you think more clearly and make better decisions, particularly when you’re stressed. As you focus on your breathing, you’ll learn to connect to yourself and to identify and let go of your feelings. The automatic urge to reach for food will dissipate. Here’s a great resource to get you started. Go to http://stopbreathethink.org. They have an app for your smart phone that’s very user friendly and will guide you through breathing exercises and other meditations for mindfulness.
Back to the future. When a desire to eat is triggered by an emotion, stop what you are doing and take a minute to focus on the future. Think of an upcoming vacation, meeting with a friend, or a special celebration. Doing so gets you out of the moment. It’s an instant reality check for making a better food choice.
Self-soothe. When you take care of your body it will take care of you. Being an understanding friend to yourself can help prevent you from disconnecting through emotional eating. When you do stress eat, don’t beat yourself up about it. Understand that it happens to everyone sometimes. A few kind words can help stop you from having feelings of guilt and despair that drive you to emotionally eat.
Your environment can have an impact on how much and what you choose to you eat. Research suggests that turning off your TV, phone, and computer can help you to become more aware of what—and how much—you’re eating and you’ll enjoy it more. Consider setting aside a certain period of time for eating quietly by yourself or with family or friends.
Make eating harder
Cut your food into much smaller bites. Eat with your non-dominant hand, or eat with chopsticks if you don’t usually. Put down your fork! Take a bite, taste the food, and swallow—all before picking up your fork for another bite. Using different techniques to eat more slowly can help you to cut down on calories and help you to savor your food.
When you eat think about how it’s just not about you. You are part of of a larger whole. Simply being grateful can quiet negative thoughts about the food you’re eating and help you to feel more satisfied.
Proactively release stress. Consider meditation, yoga, tai chi, dance, walking, or reading to redirect your impulse to emotionally eat. My personal favorite: adult coloring books. They’re trending and come in a variety of formats.
Congratulations on taking the time to work on taking charge of your emotional eating! You can create a new mindset about fueling your body. Know your own beauty and worth. It begins by giving your body the kindness and wholesome nourishment that it truly deserves.
Next week we’ll talk about the “forgotten nutrient” and wrap up our blog series with some final thoughts.