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Emotional Eating

How to Navigate Emotional Eating

It’s natural to turn toward food in times of heightened emotions. Eating can provide a distraction, offer comfort, and even lift your mood. We use food to embrace culture, celebrate occasions, care for ourselves, and connect with others. Eating is inherently emotional and a normal part of the human experience.

However, food is unlikely to solve your problems and oftentimes eating that stems from negative emotions can make you feel worse. If eating is your only coping mechanism, you don’t lack self-control and you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s simply a sign that you need new tools to care for yourself and cope with difficult emotions.

Here are some tips:

Eat Regularly

Fuel your body regularly, every three to five hours. e.g., three meals and up to two snacks. Include a variety of nutrient-dense foods, and give yourself permission to include the foods you enjoy. Restricting and trying too hard to eat “perfectly” can actually increase the likelihood of emotional eating. Eating regularly also helps keep your blood sugar stable and your energy level up whereas intense hunger can cause anxiety, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and anger. Being well-nourished will make it easier to cope with stress and negative emotions.

Identify Your Emotions

Practice pausing when you feel a heightening of emotions. Breathe deeply and ask yourself what emotion you are experiencing. Boredom, anger, sadness, loneliness, stress, anxiety, shame, and resentment commonly contribute to emotional eating. Then ask yourself, “What do I need at this moment to feel taken care of?” When you’re able to identify your emotion, you can choose how to effectively navigate it instead of automatically turning to food.

Create a Self-Care Toolbox

Take out a piece of paper or pull up the notes function on your phone. Create a list of several tools you can use to cope with stressors and negative emotions. Here are some ideas:

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Call or facetime a friend
  • Turn on music and dance!
  • Clean
  • Go for a walk
  • Listen to a funny podcast
  • Curl up on the couch and read
  • Watch a funny show
  • Workout
  • Have a good cry
  • Meditate
  • Draw
  • Practice gratitude
  • Enjoy a cup of tea
  • Do a puzzle

Be Kind to Yourself

Remember that emotional eating is normal and it’s okay. Berating yourself does little to help or prevent emotional eating from occurring again. Consider what you might say and how you might act toward your best friend or a young child that is struggling. Practice applying this to yourself – you’re doing the best you can.

Written by Alexandra Regalado, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist with El Camino Health's Lifestyle Medicine Program. Click here for more information on Lifestyle Medicine, including available classes, locations and program tracks.

 

This article first appeared in the February 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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