It’s not uncommon for people to seek comfort during stressful times, but did you know turning to food to soothe emotions or feelings has a name? It’s called emotional eating, and it explains why cookies, cake, and chips look so good after a stressful day, and is more often then not triggered by physiological hunger.
Emotional eating describes how some people soothe their anxiety, anger, fear, or other negative feelings with food. Often, emotional eating occurs as overeating or bingeing—you eat way more food than you normally would, only to find yourself feeling guilty afterwards. It can either be planned (“I’ll stop by the grocery store and get some ice cream for later because I had a tough day at work”), unplanned, and can often occur as a result of being on auto-pilot, because eating has become an activity that you keep automatically turning to.
So, how do you stop emotional eating? There are a few techniques, such as mindfulness, that can aid in stopping emotional eating. Mindfulness is a meditation technique that brings awareness to an otherwise thoughtless or automatic action.
Here are 3 ways mindfulness can help with emotional eating:
1. Becoming In Tune With Your Body
By devoting time, space, and breath to your eating habits, you begin to understand your body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness. Being present and asking yourself why you are eating calls attention to the action and creates space to deal with negative emotions differently.
Maybe you are able to identify that you aren’t really hungry, you’re angry about something at work, and can reason that talking a walk would help you feel better than eating a bag of potato chips. Maybe you realize while emotionally eating that you are full, and you do not need to continue snacking. Awareness of your body and its cues is a vital first step in managing emotional eating.
Try it out: during your next meal, try this mindfulness technique: shut off any TV, music, put your phone down, and savor your food. How did this change your meal? What did you notice about your eating?
2. Identifying Triggers
The key to mindfulness is creating understanding of the present, which you can use to understand past or future actions. By identifying how you feel in the moment, you can back track and identify why you feel a certain way. This opens the door to stress management techniques that can stop the emotional eating cycle in its tracks. For example, if you know that sitting all day makes you anxious, schedule breaks in your day to get up and move around!
Try visualizing your “pathway” to emotional eating as a literal paved walkway, and backtrack to identify a trigger. How can you deal with this differently next time it happens?
3. Accept What Is Now
Mindfulness can not only be a tool to use in identifying why emotional eating happens, it can also be used to accept the present, sitting with your feelings without judgement. Simply put, judgement doesn’t serve you, it adds more negative emotions to an already stressful situation. Accepting your emotions, whether negative or positive, can help you deal with them in a healthy way. Accepting, not judging, that you are an emotional eater, is a fantastic first step towards improving your eating habits and stress levels.
A simple trick to try can look like this: “When I am stressed I crave cookies, and that’s just how my body is responding right now. I can talk to my dietitian to learn skills for managing cravings, because I know I will have them”.