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News Room: ENQUIRER: Tactics to prevent emotional eating

To download a pdf of this article, please click here.


By: Laurie Little

It’s a new year, which means weight loss and dieting are on people’s minds as they consider their resolutions.

I am frequently asked, “How do I get myself to stop emotional eating?”

Emotional eating refers to eating when you are not physically hungry. Sometimes we eat because we are anxious or bored. Sometimes we eat because food looks or smells good. And often we eat just out of habit. If we know these behaviors hurt our waistline and our self-esteem, why do so many of us do it?

Most of us have never been taught the skills to manage emotional eating. Here are a few ways tools to manage the urge:

  1. Ideally, keep as little processed (snack) food available in your home. Don’t set a rule that you are not allowed to eat any particular food (which only makes it more tempting.) A more realistic approach is to give yourself permission to eat it when you want it. At that time, go and get a single-serving size. You will eat snack foods less often if you actually have to drive to the store to get them.
  2. If you have the urge to snack between meals, first check to see if you are physically hungry. Do you notice any emptiness or growling in your stomach area? If so, then what is a healthy option?
  3. If you don’t notice physical hunger, then food is not what you need. Put post-it notes on your fridge or pantry to remind you of this.
  4. When you have the urge to eat but are not physically hungry, think about other things you can do. What activities do you enjoy? Maybe it is time to pick up an old hobby you used to enjoy but gave up. Consider “eating incompatible activities” like scrapbooking, sewing, woodworking, journaling or writing letters to friends – something that occupies your hands.
  5. Consider if an emotion is driving your consumption. Are you feeling lonely, sad, nervous, tired or stressed? What are some things you could do to take care of yourself? Consider calling a trusted friend or writing down your thoughts in a journal. A warm bath, candles and relaxing music can be soothing.

Changing behavior takes time. If you are not physically hungry, then food cannot give you what you need. Figuring out what you do need takes time and effort, but when you do, your body will thank you for it.

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