How to overcome emotional eating

We don’t always reach for food to simply satisfy hunger. Many of us turn to food in times of distress, boredom, or uncertainty. Other problems, such as depression, anxiety, chronic anger, or poor self-esteem can also result in overeating, and consequently, unwanted weight gain. According to recent studies, 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.

The sad truth is that emotional hunger cannot be satisfied by a full stomach. On the contrary, after the ‘emotional feast’ is over, we are often left feeling much worse, struggling with guilt and shame, and unable to justify our behaviour.

Emotional overeating can easily become a habit that can prevent a person from effectively resolving emotional distress. For emotional eaters, food becomes a ‘buffer’ that blocks the pain, even if only temporarily.
So, where do you start if you want to stop eating emotionally?
1. Become aware of your feelingsIt is absolutely essential for you to recognise that you are an emotional eater and try to explore the reasons for it. A good place to start is to ask yourself the following question, every time you reach out for food or experience a craving: “am I actually hungry? Why am I eating? Is it because I need to eat or because I just want to eat?”
2. Start an emotional eating journalYou may wish to take notes and track your eating habits to determine patterns and emotional triggers that lead to food binges. If you notice that you tend to overeat during specific times of the day, consider what is it about those times that triggers such behaviour?
3. Find alternative ways to deal with your feelingsIn order to find a long-term solution to emotional eating, one needs to find different ways, other than food, that can help to achieve an emotional fulfilment. Example: If you are feeling anxious, relieve the nervous energy by playing a musical instrument, dancing to a favourite song, or going for a brisk walk. Similarly, if you are feeling exhausted, don’t ‘reward’ yourself with a bar of chocolate, but make yourself a hot cup of tea or light some scented candles and have a relaxing bath.
4. Don’t give in automaticallyEmotional eating works like an impulse - before you even realise what you are doing, you may have already finished a tub of ice-cream. Next time you have a craving, give yourself a couple of minutes to analyse your feelings and make a conscious decision. Avoid thinking in terms of ‘I can’t’ because forbidden fruit always appears very tempting. Instead, ask yourself ‘how am I feeling right now’? What’s going through my mind? Giving yourself time to reflect instead of immediately giving in to craving, will help you to develop a different response over time.
Putting the above tips in practice will help you to break the eating cycle. This is not likely to happen overnight and you may fail several times before you change your emotional responses, but in time, you will overcome the emotional eating problem.
Therapy can provide effective ways for managing overeating and eating disorders. Together, we can identify the challenges that predisposed you to the problem and find the best way forward to help you develop a healthy relationship with food.

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