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Overcoming Emotional Eating

Published on March 17, 2016

Your emotions can seem to overwhelm you. You feel stress, anger, sadness or just plain boredom – and you reach for a snack.

Before you know it, food is your go-to solution for emotional self-soothing. And it’s starting to show on the scales. It’s common to use food as a reward to treat yourself, or as a centerpiece in celebration with others – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you turn to food to satisfy a longing emotional need or to help you cope – the results can wreak havoc on your body and leave you feeling depressed, guilty and angry at yourself.

Whether you’ve dealt with emotional eating for years or you’ve just noticed yourself turning to food for relief (hey, there’s a reason they call it “comfort food”!), you’re not alone. Millions of people struggle in a constant cycle of emotional eating / feeling guilty or defeated / using food to assuage those feelings.

But you can break the cycle.

And, in fact, you’ve already taken the first step. Recognizing and acknowledging the problem is your first step on a journey that will free you from the chains of emotional eating. Here are some other tips that can help:

Keep an Emotional Eating Diary

For many people, it can help tremendously to acknowledge awareness of the problem. When emotions are running high, and you feel like reaching for a snack, reach for a journal instead. Write out your feelings – pour it all out. No one has to read the diary but you. Writing about your feelings is cathartic and can make you feel better just by getting them out onto paper. And writing costs no calories at all!

Seek Out Alternatives to Food

When you know the cues you’re getting aren’t hunger-related; you can fill them with alternatives instead. Call up an old friend or a relative you haven’t talked to for a while. Go for a walk with the family dog or play with your kids. Find an activity that doesn’t involve eating and in no time at all, the emotional cues will vanish, and you’ll feel a lot better about yourself in the process.

Replace Emotional Habits with Good Ones

Learning how to acknowledge and cope with your emotions is crucial to overcoming emotional eating. Look for ways to make small but noticeable replacements in your habits. If you habitually reach for a bag of chips, replace it with a bag of carrot or celery sticks, or take a walk around the block and take in some of that fresh air instead. If you want a way to reward yourself with something that isn’t food, consider giving yourself a “spa day” or hanging out with friends! If there’s food present and it’s tempting you – look for ways to concentrate on the conversation instead of the buffet table.

Remember, you choose how to respond to stress. Being aware of your actions and their impact makes the likelihood of stress eating, overeating or binge eating less of a temptation. Confide in someone you trust or a professional dietician or counselor about your eating concerns. Create a plan that works for you both today and in the long term.

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