Turning to food for something other than physical nourishment only trades one problem for another. Curling up with a bag of cookies temporarily solves boredom, but at a cost. As long as you’re eating, the cookies provide a sense of comfort and reassurance; they soothe the inner ache or divert your thoughts from uncomfortable issues. In the long run, you pack on the pounds and you’re left feeling ashamed, guilty, and mad at yourself. A red flag that emotional eating has become a problem is when you notice it has become a pattern to turn to food when you are anxious, depressed, or frustrated. This is especially a problem when you start to gain weight. A study out just today also found that it’s a myth that foods soothe a need for comfort. The study found that time alone was just as effective as anything a person ate to help curb a craving for comfort.
Emotional eating seldom drives you to eat broccoli. Emotional eaters choose fatty, sugary foods, such as ice cream, cookies, chips, or doughnuts. You’re also likely to mend a mood with hamburgers, pizza, or chocolate than with chard or tofu. Powering down these high-fat and sugar items means that people who eat to stuff emotions are likely to end up overweight, while people who learn to handle their emotional eating lose weight.
In short, the kitchen shouldn’t be your psychiatrist couch or emotional-management center. If eating to soothe emotions is getting in the way of enjoying life or maintaining your weight, you must find a way to comfort yourself with something other than food or at least choose foods that nurture your health and mood, rather than stuff them.
What do you do?
Stop yourself before a snack and check in with your emotions. In fact, several times a day, ask yourself how you are feeling. Are you mad, happy, sad, calm, angry, frustrated, excited, hungry, or what? Ask yourself what you need. Do you need a hug, a breath of fresh air, a good talk with a friend, or a snack? Many times your cravings are for something other than food. In those cases, do something to feel better, rather than unconsciously grabbing a bag of chips. For example, a brisk walk on a sunny day or a bike ride after work will do much more for relieving frustration than eating a stale doughnut in the employee’s lounge.
Remind yourself that food won’t make you feel any better. Believe it or not, that simple strategy actually works. People who were feeling down-in-the-dumps actually ate less when researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland told them that fatty snacks wouldn’t improve their moods.
Develop a list of five things you will do before you eat, such as call a friend and take a 20-minute walk. This helps diffuse the urge to eat.
Don’t deprive yourself. If you are craving a piece of cake and that is exactly what you want and need, then serve yourself a small piece and enjoy every bite. Just do it consciously, not emotionally.
Minimize the damage of emotional eating by substituting nutritious, or at least low-calorie, foods that will still leave you feeling satisfied. If you turn to sweet-and-creamy foods when you are down in the dumps, try sugar-free, fat-free pudding; if you go for the chips, keep baked chips on hand.