“Food can distract you from your pain. But food cannot take away your pain.”~Karen Salmansohn
Yesterday, a close friend of mine who is going through a particularly difficult time right now texted me asking for advice on how to overcome a struggle with emotional eating. Boy, did that hit home for me! Emotional eating has been a constant struggle for me all my life, and has really taken the front seat in my life over the past two years or so.
If you struggle with emotional eating, you’re not alone. I spent some time yesterday gathering various tips I’ve come across over time on dealing with emotional eating and thought how nice it would be if they were all in one place for me to refer back to. So, here we are.
Focus on Eating Healthy Foods – Not Deprivation
I know I have a habit of overeating when I’m stressed. So, by keeping myself surrounded by the healthiest foods, I can focus on putting nourishing foods into my body instead of looking through the cupboards thinking “I really shouldn’t eat that.”
Restriction tends to make me binge more on less healthy foods when I decide to have a “cheat day” or that “my diet is over.”
Instead, if I focus my energy on healthy, nourishing foods and stock my kitchen with those, I’ll naturally eat more healthily, even if the portions are a little larger.
Cook as Much as Possible
Something else that has been instrumental in mitigating my emotional eating has been more regular cooking.
When life gets really stressful, it’s easy to start eating more packaged and restaurant food because it’s one less thing to do or to think about. For me though, all that did was make me unhealthy, which in turn stressed me out more.
No matter how crazy and stressful life gets, one of the best things you can do for your health is to say “no” to whatever you have to in order to make time in your life to take care of yourself. That includes cooking.
Plus, it’s harder to overeat at home when your kitchen is full of foods that have to be cooked or prepared in some way. Too much effort!
Some Things Are More Important Than Losing Weight
It’s easy to say things like “cook more” and “only keep healthy foods in your kitchen,” but it’s another to actually implement them.
When you’re going through some kind of a huge life event, like your own or a family member’s hospitalization, a big move, or the loss a friendship, sometimes you just need to get through it any way you can.
Take stock of your situation. Is this something temporary that you’re going through? It’s probably okay to just eat what you want while you cope, then get right back to your routine when life calms down.
If you’re chronically stressed though, and emotional eating is becoming a regular habit, it’s likely in your best interest to work on breaking the habit.
Try a Few Different Strategies
A quick google search will bring up tons of self-help resources for emotional eating.
Some that stand out to me are pausing when you reach for food to notice if you are hungry or emotional, keeping a “mood and food” journal, and finding other ways to spend your emotional energy (like taking a walk).
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
In the end, if you’ve been through the self-help options and you still feel that you’re having issues, ask for help.
Friends and family may be able to help simply by being there for you and letting you vent. Or, you may want to go down the road of counseling.
If you work for a large employer, chances are they offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you’re not sure, contact your Human Resources department to find out.
An EAP will have a phone number you can call to speak right away with a counselor over the phone, and can even connect you with a counselor in your area (likely with at least one free session). They may also have a website where you can search for articles directly related to solutions for emotional eating.
Most Importantly, Take Care of Yourself
Emotional eating is not something to be ashamed of. It’s a coping mechanism that many people struggle with. If your emotional eating is tied to something temporary, it’s probably healthiest not to add to your stress by worrying about it.
But, if it’s becoming a regular habit, there are self-help options for overcoming, like recognizing hunger vs. emotion, keeping a journal and focusing on healthy foods.
If nothing you are doing on your own seems to help, ask for help! An outside perspective from a trusted friend, family member, or even counselor can be exactly what you need to overcome emotional eating once and for all.