How to Stop Emotional Eating

Attractive woman in painDo you eat when you are stressed?  Many people do.  In fact, many dieters find that they can’t lose weight because the diet itself causes stress and the stress then triggers them to overeat.  So how do you curb emotional eating?  The first step is to identify the pattern and the next step is to ask for help.

Identify Emotional Eating

One of the best ways to identify emotional eating is to keep a food journal.  If you’re dieting, a food journal is helpful for many reasons.  It helps you to evaluate food portions, total calorie intake and overall energy balance (calories in versus calories out).  But if you include notes about your feelings when you eat, it can also help you to identify emotional eating.

If you haven’t been able to lose weight and your stress level is usually high, try this exercise to evaluate the relationship between food and anxiety.  Keep a small paper journal in your handbag or briefcase.  Try to keep it with you at all times.  Any time that you eat – even when you grab a little nibble – jot down 3-5 words that describe how you felt before you eat.  For example, you might use any of these words:

  • Worried
  • Bored
  • Hungry
  • Annoyed
  • Frustrated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Entitled (i.e. “I deserve this”)

Don’t think too much about the words, just write down whatever pops into your head.  After a week, evaluate the journal.  If you find that you eat, snack or binge during times when you are experiencing negative emotions, you might be an emotional eater.

Get Help for Emotional Eating

The easiest way to eliminate emotional eating is to decrease your stress level throughout the day. You might be able to do this on your own by finding a comforting habit to replace food when you are feeling frustrated or anxious.  For example, some people use deep breathing techniques.  Others may go for a brief walk or use positive thinking to counteract negativity.

But don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t feel that you can manage the stress on your own.  Your primary care provider may be able to refer you to a behavioral health specialist who is trained to provide support for these issues.


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