Have you ever eaten when you’re upset, even if you’re not hungry? If emotional eating is only occasional then it is not such a problem. However it becomes a problem when indulgence in food becomes a way of suppressing negative feelings such as ‘I’m miserable’, ‘I’m lonely’, ‘I’m hopeless’, ‘I’m fat’ etc.
These are issues which many of my weight loss patients can struggle with. This emotional eating with over-consumption of food often leads to fat-gain and other health problems. This can then create a vicious cycle of more emotional eating to manage the emotional consequences of becoming overweight and unhealthy.
Read these following tips to find productive ways to help you overcome emotional eating.
10 top tips to overcome emotional eating
1. Recognise real hunger
Increasingly, we find it difficult to distinguish actual hunger from a desire to eat out of habit or a need for comfort or distraction. With real hunger, your stomach rumbles; however, if you just feel like putting something in your mouth, it’s probably a desire to eat for emotional reasons. Try a cup of tea or a glass of water first and see whether you still feel the urge to eat. Another helpful trick is to rate your hunger. Ask yourself where your hunger falls on a scale of one to five, with one being ravenous and five comfortably full. If you are a four or five, don’t eat.
2. Identify triggers
The most common culprits behind emotional eating are stress, depression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and anger. Keep a food diary to identify emotional triggers in your life. Write down what you eat, when, how you were feeling, and what you were doing before you ate. Sometimes seeing or speaking to a certain person can disrupt your emotional equilibrium so subtly that you don’t realise where your mood shift and desire for food came from. After two weeks, review your notes. What events, places, and people triggered your emotional eating? By identifying what triggers our emotional eating, appropriate techniques can be recommended to manage our emotional problems and take food and weight gain out of the equation.
3. Find Alternatives
The key to changing a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. If, for example, you find you eat more when you are bored, find activities to keep you busy, such as cleaning out your wardrobe or sorting photographs. If a particular time is a problem – the mid afternoon slump, snack on some nuts and fruit and plan other activities for that time. Social support is a powerful weapon against emotional overeating; when you feel cared for, you are less likely to turn to sweets for comfort. And if you find that you are using food as reward, write a list of small, non-food treats – a massage, a magazine, a movie, a book – and give yourself one whenever you feel you’ve earned it.
4. Tune in to food
Eat regular, well-balanced meals to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Don’t punish yourself by skipping meals or avoiding food groups, as this starts the craving cycle up again. Steer clear of sweet and salty foods and choose healthier alternatives, such as roasted chick peas, tamari roasted almonds, home-made protein balls and dried mango strips. Be prepared: If you are in for a stressful couple of days at work, have healthy snacks on board.
Consider food sensitivity testing offered in my clinic – you’ll be surprise at the power of certain food chemicals can have on your emotions.
Also ensure the food you cook and eat tastes delicious by adding herbs and spices. Anything with a strong flavour or temperature – think: peppermint, ginger or cinnamon – helps to overcome sugar cravings.
5. Eat Calm
The amino acid tryptophan – found in turkey, beans, dates, dairy foods, eggs, and sesame seeds – boosts production of the hormone serotonin, which counters stress. Ask me for my ‘mood foods’ handout if you would like more information!
6. Get moving
Exercising outdoors raises levels of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones that send ‘pleasure signals’ to the brain. The increase in these brain chemical improve mood and energy levels, control sugar cravings, in turn improving weight loss and overall health. No motivation? Call a friend, and go walking or swimming together.
7. Get more sleep!
Sleep deprivation can impact our emotional equilibrium by playing havoc with our happy brain chemicals. We can be moodier, snap more easily and/or feel depressed and unmotivated.
What’s more, a lack of uninterrupted sleep is associated with decreased levels of the hormone leptin and elevated levels of the hormone ghrelin, which has the effect of increasing hunger and storing more body fat. Sleep in a area free from wi-fi and electronic gadgets including smart phones and tablets which can interfere with melatonin production in your pineal gland. If you can’t avoid WiFi etc, look for a suitable neutralising device.
Natural medicine for sleep troubles may include herbal medicine, supplemental melatonin, flower essences and more.
Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night – uninterrupted in an ideal world!
8. Be kind to yourself
Add stress-reducing activities to your routine, from soaking in a bath using aromatherapy oils to massage to meditation, tai chi and yoga.
9. Tap away your troubles
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) addresses emotional eating at the level of the energy meridian system (or Chi in Chinese Medicine). EFT is modelled after acupuncture but doesn’t use needles. Instead, one simply stimulates certain meridian points by tapping on them with their fingertips. EFT is a profoundly effective resource, is non-invasive and in 80% of the cases immediate food cravings subside in moments.
10. Support is at hand
As an experienced and qualified naturopath, I am able to support my patients with:
- suitable eating plans/diets
- lifestyle and coping strategies including breathing exercises, affirmations, hydrotherapy
- targeted supplements including strong B vitamins, chromium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin D, 5HTP, GABA etc
- soothing nervine and adrenal herbs such as St John’s wort, kava, passionflower, skullcap, lemon balm, lavender, rose, gymnema
- flower essences and homoeopathy to address underlying self-esteem issues, anxiety etc
- natural hormone therapy: DHEA, melatonin, bespoke hormone balancing creams.
Finally, don’t berate yourself. Changing habits takes time and you will undoubtedly stumble along the way. Just pick yourself up and try again. As you continue on your path of learning healthier coping strategies, remember that no experience is wasted.
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