How often do you feel intense food cravings when you feel stressed or face a complex problem?
Emotional eating is a way of coping with negative emotions by reaching out for comfort foods, which are generally high in fat, salt, and sugars. Stress, anger, disappointment, tiredness, or boredom can cause the urge the eat, even if you don’t feel hungry.
While emotional eating can provide comfort for a short period, this relief is temporary. The emotions you are trying to suppress will likely return quickly. Additionally, you’ll feel guilty about overeating.
The good news is you can take steps to control your emotional eating habits.
1) Become aware of your emotional eating urges
Throughout the day, you might experience cravings for high-fat or high-sugar foods. Do a hunger check to understand whether you are hungry or feel an emotional urge for food. If you had food less than a couple of hours ago, your desire for food is most likely driven by your emotions.
Instead of immediately grabbing food when an impulse arises, take a pause. Create some space between your urge and your action. Take a deep breath and slowly count to ten.
You can also drink a glass of water when food cravings arise. Sometimes your body can confuse thirst with hunger if you are dehydrated.
2) Decide on the strategy to respond to your urges
Instead of relying on your willpower to control your urges, put together a plan on how you’d like to respond when your food cravings arise.
One strategy is to find healthy snack alternatives that you enjoy.
For example, try eating fruits or a piece of dark chocolate instead of instantly reaching out for ice cream or cookies. When craving a salty snack, eat a spoonful of peanut butter. If you want something fatty, avocado or nuts may be a great solution.
Remove junk food from your kitchen. If your fridge and kitchen cabinets are loaded with unhealthy foods, you will likely eat those foods. By eliminating easy access to trigger foods, you’ll make it easier for yourself to reduce your emotional eating.
Another strategy is to find a constructive way to distract yourself. For example, instead of getting food when you feel stressed, spend five minutes going for a walk, doing meditation, reading, or stretching.
3) Make a conscious choice
Remember that you have control over your thoughts and your actions. It is up to you to decide how you want to respond to your impulses.
There will be times when you give in to your urges. That is completely fine. We all do it. There is nothing wrong with giving in sometimes, but it can lead to poor habits if you regularly give in to your food cravings.
Take a minute to weigh the consequences of giving in to your impulse or overcoming your craving.
Think about which choice supports the desired results that you want.
Recognize the times when you can resist temptation and feel good about it.
Acknowledge the times when you wish you had made a different choice.
4) Track your food
When you track your food, you can create greater awareness of what you eat, when, and how much food you consume.
As you gain more food awareness, you also become more conscious of hunger signals.
You can better identify the times you eat even though you are not hungry.
Interestingly, greater food awareness alone can lead to better food choices and weight loss as it can stop you from overeating. Numerous studies show that people who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who did not track their food.
5) Get the most from your food
The number of calories in food tells you how much potential energy food contains. However, not only calories are essential, but also the substance from which the calories are taken.
Each food has a specific nutrient density or nutrients per amount of food. While eating the right amount of food for your energy needs, you want to ensure that that food is loaded with nutrients.
Some foods with high-nutrient density are vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Some foods with low-nutrient density are deli meats, refined grains, sugar products, potato chips, pizza, and soft drinks.
When you fill your body mostly with nutrient-dense foods, you get a maximum dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients. These foods keep your body healthy and help you keep your emotional eating in check.
It’s within your power to take control of your emotional eating. First, start noticing throughout the day when you experience cravings for food, even though you are not hungry. Second, create a strategy of how you’d like to deal with those cravings. Third, make conscious choices that enable you to indulge your food cravings occasionally while maintaining your commitment to healthy eating. Finally, try to track your food and ensure to eat foods with high nutrient density.