Food As Comfort: Stop Bad Eating Habits And Emotional Eating

emotional eating and tips to stop it

Even those people who follow a strict diet and understand the calorie content of everything they eat (who are these people!) can still have a bad day and slip with their nutrition.

In our society, emotional eating is such an ingrained and normalized behaviour that we even see it in popular films and tv programmes.  What does the leading female actor turn to when unhappy?  A tub of Ben and Jerrys!  Notice you don’t often see the leading male actor following this behaviour but that’s probably a subject for another article.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it. The human brain has evolved to reward behavior that increases our chance of survival. One of these things is eating.

The tough part is that our brains are wired to reward us for high calorie, high energy foods. Such foods were vital to sustaining our ancestors, but in today’s world where food is plentiful, this aspect of the brain ends up working against us.

What constitutes emotional eating?

In the journal Appetite there is an article, Relations between negative affect, coping, and emotional eating (catchy title huh?) that deals with this question point-blank. Their findings state that “emotional eating is related to reliance on emotion-oriented coping and avoidance distraction in eating-disordered women as well as in relatively healthy women.”

There are two things to take away from this. First, emotional eating doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.  Second, if you eat to cope with daily life and this is your chief way to cope, then it would be worth exploring other ways to cope that would serve you better.

How To Stop The Habit Of Emotional Eating

Try to identify your triggers. Some find it helpful to keep a food diary.  Record not only what and how much you ate but also how you felt. This may bring to light a pattern in your eating.  Is it stress, boredom, loneliness, prevarication, anxiety, or some other emotion that’s triggering you to eat?

Recognizing a pattern allows you to develop a strategy to break it. Patterns such as eating after a hard day at work, during high-stress times, after a heartbreak, or when lonely or bored are signs of emotional eating. Yoga, meditation, and regular exercise can help reduce stress levels. Talking about your feelings is a much healthier coping mechanism than eating. Food is sustenance, it shouldn’t be used for comfort.

Distract yourself. The best distractions from emotional eating are things that take only about five minutes—just long enough to help you switch gears. Not only can this help stop the behavior but it can help change your mood, hopefully taking away the feeling of needing to eat.  This could be as simple as a cup of tea, a few exercises, a quick breathing drill, or reading a few pages of your latest book.  Try to come up with your strategy.

Make it easier on yourself and take away the temptation. Clean out your fridge and cupboards of all unhealthy foods that you typically indulge in.  

Get support. Those who lack a quality support system tend to emotionally eat more often.  Talk to a friend about what triggers your emotional eating and what you want to try and do about it.  You’ll probably be surprised when you open up to them that their response may be very similar.