28 Mar A Dietitian’s Guide on How to Manage Emotional Eating
Are you eating more than usual since the pandemic began almost 2 years ago? If you’ve recently found yourself halfway through a family size bag of chips before realizing you weren’t even hungry, you’re not alone.
Finding comfort in food during difficult times is how some people try to cope with stress and other emotions.
Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix the root of your problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse, especially when the guilt and shame sets in.
Fortunately, there are coping tactics for emotional eating that will make you feel better not only emotionally, but mentally and physically as well:
Discover the Root Cause
The first step in managing your emotional eating is to figure out your “why” behind it. Every time you find yourself emotionally eating, write down all of the reasons that it makes sense as to why you’re turning to food. It could be due to short-term reasons such as having a bad day at work or having a lot on your to-do list; however, it could be from long-term issues such as chronic stress, long-term anger, depression, etc. Journaling your “why” will help you to see a pattern and you will be able to find other ways to cope.
Find Other Coping Methods
Once you’ve figured out your why, it’s time to choose a better coping mechanism than food. Here are some examples of what that can look like:
- Stress – breathing exercises, meditate, take a walk, yoga, or cuddle your pet
- Loneliness – text, call or video chat with a friend or loved one
- Sadness – make a list of things you’re grateful for, watch a comedy movie, or talk to a friend/family
- Boredom – finish a project, watch a movie, read a book, or find a new hobby
- Anxiety – confide in a friend, spend time with your pet(s) or consider reaching out to a counselor or therapist
Next time you’re going to turn to food for comfort, consider one of the suggestions above, or come up with your own!
Practice Mindful Eating
When you eat to feed your feelings, you tend to do so quickly, mindlessly consuming food on autopilot. Practice mindful eating by slowing down, savoring the flavors, and not eating while distracted by your phone, TV, or computer. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of your food. How does each mouthful taste? How does it make your body feel? This will help you to feel fuller quicker and will leave you feeling more satisfied.
Prioritize Healthy Habits
You’ll be better prepared to handle the stresses of life and your emotions in general if you’re physically strong, relaxed, and well rested. Here are some healthy lifestyle habits that can help to prevent emotional eating:
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Increase your fruit & veggie intake.
- Exercise regularly.
- Make time for relaxation.
- Drink enough water.
If you’ve tried the strategies above and still can’t manage your emotional eating, talk to a mental health professional about therapy. Therapy might help you learn coping skills and understand why you eat emotionally.
Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian/ Consultant