How to Stop Emotional Eating

Featured Article, Weight Loss
on August 23, 2012

Do you engage in “emotional eating”? I’m not a big fan of the term, largely because for most people, it conjures up an image of an overweight, middle-aged woman, sobbing uncontrollably on her couch with her cat and a tub full of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s an image that many people don’t identify with.

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However, most of the time when we eat, we do so not because we’re hungry, but to change the way we feel. Many of us actively participate in random eating fueled by our emotions. So, I prefer the term “mindless” eating over “emotional” eating, because everyone can relate to this. We all do it, and we all have the ability to cut it out! It’s just a matter of identifying the reasons we engage in mindless eating and finding an alternative behavior.

Why We Engage in Mindless Eating

Oftentimes, when we feel something undesirable, we turn to food in an attempt to eliminate this feeling. The most common feelings or emotions that trigger random, mindless eating include:

  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Sadness

Food is a temporary distraction from these feelings. While you may feel better when you’re eating the food, you’ll still feel the same when the food is gone. You’ll get zero satisfaction out of what you just ate, and the real problem will remain unsolved.  

How to Stop Mindless Eating

So, how do you stop this bad habit? Simple: Replace it with a better one! The key is identifying your triggers and replacing mindless eating with another activity.  Here’s an exercise that will help you get started:

1.) Make a list of how you’re feeling when you eat randomly.

Why are you eating? What do you feel? Take pen to paper and brainstorm a list of common feelings you have when you catch yourself eating mindlessly.

2.) List the desired emotion you would like to feel instead.

For example, your undesirable feeling might be stress, boredom or sadness. The desired feeling might be relaxation, pleasure or happiness. What feeling are you trying to achieve by eating?

3.) Create a list of things that will help you achieve your desired emotion.

For instance: listening to calming music, spending time with someone you care about, or taking a quick walk.

Realize that it’s OK to feel different emotions and know that emotions are temporary. Taking steps to identify your triggers and replace mindless eating with a healthier activity will help you feel more in control of your emotions and at ease with yourself.