Do you eat when you’re bored, tired, sad or lonely? Or, when life gets too stressful, do you spend a lot of time in your cupboards and fridge to ease some of the tension and anxiety? If you answered yes to either (or both) these questions, you may be making your problems worse.
There’s no doubt that emotional eating calms your nerves, soothes your tensions and eases your pains. However, the problem is that it is only short term. The minute you’re done swallowing the last chip, bite of cake or morsel of cookie the bad feelings you have come back – often with a vengeance.
According to research results recently released by Penn State University, people who experience negative moods prior to eating the very foods they think are comforting them often end up with moods that become worse. It’s as if the junk food intensifies the bad feelings, leaving them in a much worse position than when they sought solace from food in the first place.
So, what can you do to keep emotional eating to a minimum and your attitude positive and healthy? Just follow these seven simple steps:
Step #1: Think about what you’re hungry for
The first step to stopping emotional eating is to realize that is what you’re doing. One way to ascertain that is to ask yourself if you are hungry for something in particular or would most any food do? If you find that you want one specific item, you’re likely emotionally hungry whereas if you’ll eat pretty much anything in front of you, your body may actually need nourishment.
Some health experts once believed that cravings were a result of your body needing certain nutrients. However, as most diets in this day and age cover the vitamins and minerals your body needs, that’s not likely the case.
Here are some common feelings and the foods they may inspire you to eat according to an article published in American Demographics in July 2000:
- Sadness – cookies and ice cream
- Boredom – potato chips
- Happiness – pizza and steak (yes, you may be inclined to eat out of positive emotions too)
Step #2: Recognize your triggers
Once you’re aware of the fact that you want to emotionally eat, you need to understand which emotions send you to the kitchen in the first place. This may take some time to figure out if you’ve become adept at stifling negative emotions, so be patient with yourself during this process.
When you find yourself standing in front of the fridge or cupboard with the door open, ask yourself what you were feeling just prior to that moment. Did something happen such as a phone call with bad news, or were you working on your budget and felt your anxiety start to rise over needing more money for some added expenses?
Maybe you were thinking of a friend who is battling a health issue and you suddenly felt sad, or perhaps you were bored and didn’t know what else to do. Try to isolate your particular triggers so that you’ll be able to recognize which emotions you need to learn to deal with without the use of food.
Step #3: Create a list of non-food solutions to resolve your emotions
Now that you know which emotions send you in search of something to eat, it’s important to come up with alternative things you can do when your trigger emotion strikes. As food will never resolve non-food issues, you need to find the things that will actually resolve your issue.
For instance, if anxiety sends you to the kitchen every time, you’ll need to come up with a list of things you can do when you feel tense. Maybe exercise will ease your anxiousness or if it’s extra money you need to let go of some stress perhaps getting a part time job would help?
Come up with ideas you can try the next time emotions strike. The more options you have, the better.
Step #4: Distract yourself for 15 minutes
If you’ve been able to isolate that you are in fact hungry due to emotional reasons, sometimes a slight distraction is all that’s necessary to get past your cravings to eat unhealthy food. If you can take focus off the fact that you want to eat, the feeling may go away all on its own.
Do something that will require your concentration for at least 15 minutes. Take a walk or soak in a nice, hot bath. Call a friend or read a book. You may find that getting lost mentally somewhere else gives you just the break you needed to get on with your day without using food to help you do it.
Step #5: Don’t keep comfort foods around
If you don’t have your comfort foods readily available to you then you’ll be less inclined to eat them when you’re feeling down. It’s one thing to be able to go to the cupboard and grab them, but it’s completely different if you actually have to get in the car and go to the store to buy them when the feelings strike.
While this won’t absolutely stop you from eating, it at least forces you to make a conscious decision to consume food when you’re not physically hungry. It improves your awareness that you’re not feeling good and may make you rethink your decision to eat out of emotion because you won’t have the opportunity to act on impulse.
Step #6: Breathe
Life can be extremely hectic and if you use food to solve all sorts of issues, sometimes you can benefit just by slowing down a bit. Take a minute when you’re feeling harried and stressed and just breathe.
If you can, find a nice quiet place or put on some headphones with soothing noises or music and focus on the air as it enters your nose, travels to your lungs and then is exhaled through your mouth. Do this several minutes a day and it will help reduce your stress and hopefully squelch your urge to soothe yourself with food.
Step #7: Look for signs of physical hunger
If you’ve done all the previous steps and you still want food, then you need to consider the fact that you may actually be physically hungry. Maybe it’s been a long time since breakfast or the meal you had a few hours ago was small and didn’t tide you over.
How do you know if it’s physical hunger? Look for these signs:
- Your tummy is growling
- You feel a little lightheaded or have a headache
- You’re easily agitated or frustrated
- You feel lethargic
- The urge to eat came on gradually, not just out of the blue
These are all signs that you’re actually physically hungry and should probably get something to eat (and do so without guilt or remorse). If you don’t have these signs and just ate a nutritious meal not too long ago, your body probably isn’t looking for food for physiological reasons.
Eating out of emotion is understandable, but it isn’t helpful to you, not only for health reasons but because it may actually make you feel worse, as Penn State has just found out. Do yourself a favor and stop the eating before it starts. Your body and attitude will thank you.
Have you ever eaten a meal and then felt completely lazy and lethargic afterword? Would you like to know which foods to eat that will actually make you more energetic and bubbly instead?
Every food available has the ability to make you feel either better or worse based on its composition, or make-up. So, here are some great food options you’re going to want to consider if you’d rather spend your after-meal time ready to go versus wanting nothing more than to sit around with your pants unbuttoned and ready to take a nap:
Because sweet potatoes are high in carbs, they give your body a shot of energy that will keep it going for quite some time. It also has a small amount of protein along with a lot of vitamin A (1 cup has almost 400% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of this key vitamin) and some vitamin B, which are all energy enhancing nutrients.
You can either put it in the microwave and “bake” it or cut it up and throw it in the oven for healthy fries. Although naturally sweet on their own, you can also drizzle a little bit of all-natural honey on it if you want an extra boost of energy (and health).
This one fruit in particular has a lot of natural sugars which enter your blood stream rather quickly and can put a little pep in your step shortly after you eat it. It is also high in fiber which is good for your digestive system and will keep it moving, thereby getting the toxins and wastes out of your body.
You can grab one on your way out the door in the morning for a midday snack or cut one up and enjoy it with some organic or natural peanut butter for a touch of protein too. That way, you’ll satisfy both your salty and sweet taste buds at the same time.
This is the one green leafy vegetables that will give you the most oomph. It is high in iron, which is key for energy, so when you eat a salad for lunch, for example, you won’t have to fight those midday desires to nap at your desk or work station.
Another option is to juice with spinach. Adding it will not only boost your drink’s nutrient factor, but it will also make you feel more wide awake and ready to take on the world.
Many people avoid nuts because of their high fat content, but it is a fat that is healthy for your heart so they’re okay as long as you consume them in moderation. The best ones to choose are almonds, although walnuts and pecans are good for you too. Grab a handful when you’re feeling tired or sprinkle them atop your spinach salad for an extra boost.
High in protein, eggs are great when you’re looking for energy that is going to sustain you throughout the day. They keep hunger at bay and won’t give you that dreaded blood sugar crash that can make you want to spend all your time on the couch.
Eating one or two at breakfast is a great way to start your day or you can hard boil them and snack on them when you need a little pick me up. You can also make an egg salad sandwich for lunch with low-fat or no-fat mayo and a touch of mustard for taste.
Although there is some concern over the cholesterol in eggs, research has shown that consuming them doesn’t affect blood cholesterol levels. Still, if you’re not quite convinced, you can limit how often you eat them to just 2-3 times a week.
Not only is this fish in particular high in heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it is also high in protein which will give you energy that lasts. In addition, salmon contains some key B vitamins that will help keep your motivation and drive burning hot and running strong.
You can bake or broil it, or even pan fry it with a little bit of olive oil. Put it atop an energy inducing spinach salad or enjoy it with a baked sweet potato for extra vigor and vitality.
Add these six foods to your diet on a regular basis and you’ll notice that you have more than enough liveliness to make it through the day. Isn’t that a nice thought?