Whether it’s a special cake you have at a birthday party or a bag of potato chips you eat when you’re stressed, food is powerful because it is tied to emotions and memories. However, emotional eating can also be associated with eating in the absence of physical hunger as a way to ameliorate negative self-focused emotions. Without the ability to process our feelings, we may be more inclined to turn toward food and overeat.
A great starting step in determining whether emotions are affecting your eating is cultivating awareness toward your eating habits. Here are five steps that can help:
Try to recognize what you’re feeling with curiosity and without judgment. Ask yourself what is causing you to try to fill a void with food? Is it anxiety, stress or boredom? Are you lonely or depressed? What does this feel like?
If you know what your trigger is, you can try to plan for it. For example, if loneliness is a trigger, consider calling a friend or attending a walking meet-up. Approach yourself with compassion and kindness and remind yourself turning toward food won’t necessarily help you work through what you’re feeling.
Once you’ve determined what triggers you, consider what outlets are available. It can be helpful to evaluate your current coping mechanisms and see if they are serving you. If food is your only mechanism for coping with emotional times, experiment with other options, including meditation, exercising, spending more time in nature, talking to a friend, family member or therapist or listening to music. It can also be helpful to keep a journal or pick up a new book. When you feel triggered to turn to food, try one of these outlets and see if it helps you better cope with what you’re feeling.
Feeling either overwhelmed or bored can be emotional triggers. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out, maybe there’s something you can let go of, even if just temporarily. If you have too much extra time on your hands, explore hobbies or activities you enjoy and try to fit those into your schedule. It can be as simple as adding a brief 15-minute walk to your daily routine or a new activity that helps you meet people such as plogging. Make sure you’re leaving time at night to unwind and get enough sleep.
Having fluctuating blood sugar levels, or not eating consistently throughout the day, can lead to confusion between true and emotional hunger. Low blood sugar can negatively affect your mood, causing you to make less healthy food choices. Check out these signs you’re not eating enough for weight loss and make sure you’re providing your body with enough energy to power your day.
With today’s technology and plethora of distractions, it can be hard to truly be present when eating. To minimize mindless eating think about the foods you’re eating and describe them silently using adjectives. For example, is the food sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, sour, spicy, hard or soft? Allowing yourself to taste and describe the food helps you slow down and enjoy it mindfully.