In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s too easy to turn to food as a source of comfort. We’ve all been there ー dealing with stress at work, family or relationship struggles, a bad day, or simply going through the emotional rollercoaster of life, and many of us find solace in our favorite snacks or treats. But what starts as a momentary escape often spirals into a habit of turning to food in times of stress or sadness. Many of us are left feeling guilty, frustrated, and even more emotionally drained than before.
The truth is, emotional eating is an extremely common struggle that’s not talked about enough. The problem is deeper than eating a couple extra candies after a long day; it’s leaving feelings unresolved when we use food as a coping mechanism. The temporary relief our favorite treats provide us will encourage us to repeat this behavior. Consistently eating for emotional rather than physical reasons often leads to long-term physical and psychological consequences. If you’re ready to end the cycle of guilt and embark on a journey to a healthier and happier you, follow these tips to break free from emotional eating:
- Identify your emotional and stress triggers
Figure out what feelings you are trying to numb or distract yourself from. Is it a situation at work, with your family, or another situation in your life that upsets you? Acknowledge the things that lead you to use food as a coping mechanism. There may be more than one, and it might be helpful to write these triggers down. This way, the next time you encounter the problem, you can look for a solution outside of food.
Additionally, many people don’t realize they are using food as a coping mechanism. Try to figure out your intention when you eat. If you’re trying to numb an emotion or fill some sort of void, you might be turning to food for the wrong reasons. Also, these feelings may not be as intense as anger or sadness, maybe you’re feeling bored or you’re slightly stressed with your daily life.
- Allow yourself to feel those feelings
It’s okay to feel sad, anxious, and upset. Acknowledge that you’re feeling this way, even if it’s uncomfortable. According to the Ohio State University Medical Center, pushing away our feelings can cause us to experience what is called the boomerang effect. Instead of making our negative feelings disappear, they just come back stronger. Even if we temporarily feel better when we eat, we are actually stunting our progress and are not getting past the issue at hand any faster.
Instead of opening the fridge, take a few minutes to sit with your thoughts. Know that it’s okay to feel whatever emotions you are experiencing at the moment and sit with the discomfort.
- Find a way to cope with your emotions outside of food
Go for a walk, call a friend, journal, or meditate. Take the time that you previously used to sit in the kitchen and dive into one of your hobbies instead. When you feel the need to indulge in your favorite treats, try doing something else that can make you feel better. Lean into your support systems and do the things that brighten your day. Make a list of these things so when the time comes, you have ideas ready at hand.
- Plan ahead
Forgive yourself if you eat for emotional reasons, and try to think of something else you can do the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. We all are humans and we are going to slip up sometimes, and that’s okay. The best way to move forward is to consider what caused us to turn to food, and think about what we are going to do differently next time in order to set ourselves up for success.
Your journey to ending emotional eating is more than just a way to lose a few extra pounds ー it’s rebuilding the intricate connection between our emotions and our relationships with food. Although it may not be easy to change the habits ingrained in our bodies, we can find success by using self-compassion, mindfulness, and committing to bettering ourselves. By implementing these strategies, you can liberate yourself from the grip of emotional eating and become the best and healthiest version of you.
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This article was written by Ari Harkavy, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.