4 Ways to Curb Emotional Eating

by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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4 Ways to Curb Emotional Eating

Millions of people are affected by emotional eating. Though food is as delicious as it’s exciting and comforting, using it to cope with emotions like anxiety, loneliness, boredom or pain only alleviates those feelings temporarily—and it’s usually followed by major post-binge guilt. Luckily, seeking out social support can help you overcome your food crutch.

1. FIND YOUR SUPPORT

One in two people blame bingeing on mood swings, so you’re probably not the only one in your social circle eating to feel better. While unsupportive social interactions could be a potential trigger — especially ones that make you feel stressed — social support can play an important role in overcoming emotional eating, particularly for those who tend to shut down when emotions run high. Improve your social network by disengaging with those who are negative, and reach out to people you trust — family, friends and co-workers. Consider finding a community in groups like Overeaters Anonymous. Using the strength and support of others can help you work through those tough emotions without turning to food.

2. TALK ABOUT YOUR TRIGGERS

Tackling emotional eating requires that you face those emotions that send you turning to food. By acknowledging those trigger emotions, you’re being honest with yourself and building trust with those who want to help you. Sometimes a simple conversation can even uncover new emotions you’ve never related to overeating before. For example, it’s possible certain stressful social situations make you more likely to overeat. Once you’ve identified your emotional eating triggers, you’ll be in more control of curbing your emotional eating.

3. CROWD-SOURCE EATING ALTERNATIVES

When working to overcome an undesired behavior, it’s helpful (and natural) to replace one habit with another. Once you’ve talked about your emotional eating triggers, brainstorm some eating alternatives with your support network for the next time your emotions run high. One of the obvious ones should be to immediately call a friend, family member, co-worker or someone from your support group. We all know that two heads are better than one, so the more ideas you can come up with the better prepared you’ll be.


READ MORE > 4 SIGNS YOU’RE AN EMOTIONAL EATER


4. SUBSTITUTE FOOD WITH FITNESS-BOOSTING ALTERNATIVES

A great strategy to prevent emotional eating is to substitute food with a short bout of exercise with your fitness-minded friends. Physically, exercise reduces stress and anxiety, alleviates boredom and releases feel-good endorphins. Getting one of your supportive friends to join you can squash feelings of loneliness and anxiety and provide an opportunity for you to vent, too. The next time your emotions get the best of you, call up a friend for a 20-minute sweat session or a walk-and-talk around the block.

Emotional eating is more common than you think, so don’t be afraid to seek support from your social circle. Social support can be a powerful component on your road to recovery.

Related

  • Eating due to primarily boredom, but other emotions too is my main downfall. Going to remember this!

  • Eating due to primarily boredom, but other emotions too is my main downfall. Going to remember this!

  • Mike

    Get busy. Identify and keep a list of some things that need to get done around the house, and attack it each night. You will eat less and feel good about your accomplishments.

    • Corrine

      Great idea!!

    • Madeline Lucena-Pulst

      Mike you’re a smart man. I’ve been doing that for most of the summer and have lost 15 lbs! Keep moving, stay active, not only do I feel healthier I also have the feel good of accomplishing projects. So far I helped my husband put in an above ground pool, landscaping around the pool, took down a rotted tree, completely organized our garage, revived an apple tree, and my latest doing a makeover for our mailbox. That and a couple small changes, logging food, drinking more water, have been very rewording.

  • Mike

    Get busy. Identify and keep a list of some things that need to get done around the house, and attack it each night. You will eat less and feel good about your accomplishments.

  • Carey

    Find a hobby that will keep you distracted. I choose Guitar, which takes my mind totally off of food. I was able to lose 35 pounds!

  • Carey

    Find a hobby that will keep you distracted. I choose Guitar, which takes my mind totally off of food. I was able to lose 35 pounds!

  • Des

    Have a couple non-caloric or low caloric “treats” you can use to soothe yourself. If I’m frustrated (and not actually hungry) between meals I like to drink a mug of soup broth from bouillon. I love salty food, and this stuff has so much sodium that I wouldn’t want to have it all the time, making it *feel* like a treat. I also reserve my favorite tea blend for special times. Indulging in either of those can soothe my mood.

    If I still feel terrible, I give myself permission to take a walk (absolving myself from chores of the moment) for as long as I feel I need.

    The trick for me is to have things that make me *feel* like I’m splurging on myself, but are not high-calories foods.

  • Cal

    Lots of mentions of social support. A bit difficult when the reason I comfort eat is because I’ve just moved 10,000 miles away from that social support…
    Not very helpful.

    • treasure

      Cal – it is time for new supports. online, at gym, church? Look around for someone who has what you want and ask how it was achieved. good luck!

    • Stephanie Scott

      I’m more introverted getting away from people actually helped me stop taking on their issues and focus on improving my health, happiness and life purpose. There’s always a reason why you’re in this part of your life. Maybe it’s your time to focus on you and enjoy some alone time for a bit. I talked to a counsellor about emotional problems that were leading me to comfort eat and that helped a lot. Maybe there are new people meant to be in your life. If so then pay attention to repetitive thoughts you have to take a class or join a league/group etc. If you find people who you seem to connect with or there’s an exchange of eye contact, talk to them and see where it goes. Good luck! 🙂

    • Clp78298

      I agree. I was hoping for more tips and suggestions that don’t focus on turning to other people. I need positive, proactive triggers to counter my emotional triggers. I’ve noticed I can do a lot of caloric damage in one 20-minute binge that I “allow” myself due to some emotional need I can’t explain–boredom, discouragement, disappointment for one reason or another. I think I’m going to try having more tasty lo-cal or lo-carb/hi-protein treats on hand (faithfully waiting in the freezer or a container of bags of 100 calorie emergency treats) to help control those binge moments. That and maybe turn on my favorite music station on tv and dance away the urge might help? Or look at a recent picture that was less than flattering to remind myself that eating that way is what got me where I am. Not sure if that will strengthen my resolve or add to my need for comfort food? Any other tips would be very very welcome. Mindless emotional eating is definitely my Achilles Heel. 🙁

  • The short bouts of exercise usually help me. Usually…

  • Greg Dahlen

    for six years now I have been living on fluid milk products, skim milk and cream. Every day I drink between a half to one-and-a-half gallons of skim milk, plus a little cream here and there, and hardly eat or drink anything else. I am six feet, one inch, today I weighed 153 pounds.

  • Lola Katsumi

    I have big problem with emotional eating/ bordem eating. I will mindless eat chips chips chip and just mindless eat and not think about portion control, calories, and setc.

    • Beth Ann

      I do as well, in addition to eating late at night then sleeping due to my hectic work schedule. I’m not normally hungry after working a 15 hour day. It’s my way of dealing with the stress and needs to stop.

      • Lola Katsumi

        I start my day good. But when it comes night time just slack off and mindless eat or emotional/bordem eat. Sometimes I will forget or say im gonna eat but hours didnt eat. Or I am eating everything in site. We must work hard to create new good habits to replace bad habits.

  • Hi Elle – This is a great post especially with the holidays coming up. I know a lot of people struggle with emotional eating when around family stress. Unfortunately, that social situation is the cause of the emotional eating. Do you have any suggestions for combating that kind of situation?

  • Cathy Meyer

    Usually I go for a walk or go to the gym and feel better for doing that, but if I feel like eating a treat for some emotional reason, I make it worth it – only really good dark chocolate, premium ice cream, or out of season fresh raspberries with creamy vanilla yogurt and nuts. Set the table, light a candle, and savor every bite. Not reading or driving or dashing around doing something else. I don’t keep these things around the house and I will get a small portion when I want it and really enjoy it.

  • Greg Dahlen

    I guess I’m blessed I don’t eat to deal with emotional problems as it doesn’t seem like a solution

  • Amy D

    My emotion binge eating mostly stems from not having any supportive friends. Amy suggestions as to how to avoid your snacking without needing the help of other people.

  • Anne Edgtton Meller

    Thanks for this
    Some year back I found this post and I copied it ..anonymous source.. but I found it helped me to read when I felt like eating….
    BAT = Bored, Anxious or Tired….
    There is a whole universe to discover between I’m feeling empty and turning to food to make it go away. The problem of the weight is predictable we know what to do when we have that problem. Beat ourselves up. Make ourselves wrong. Eat fewer donuts. But staying with the emptiness- entering it, welcoming it, using it to get to know ourselves better, being able to distinguish the stories we tell ourselves about the feeling, apart from the actual feeling itself – that’s radical. Imagine not being frightened by any feeling. Imagine knowing that nothing will destroy you. That you are beyond any feeling, any state. Bigger than. Vaster than. There is no reason to use food as a drug because anything a drug could do would pale in comparison to knowing who are. To what you can understand, live, be, just by being present with the emotion that presents itself to you. Instead of fearing the feelings, embrace them, accept them and let them go.
    BAT
    Passing it on in case it helps anyone!