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Are You an Emotional Eater?

Learn how to manage emotional eating.

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Updated February 25, 2011

Do you ever eat when you're not hungry? Is that a silly question? Most of us are probably guilty of eating for reasons other than hunger; this is often called emotional eating. In fact, in a recent poll, 19% of my readers cited "Eating when I'm tired, depressed or stressed," as one of their biggest diet blunders.

Emotional eating is a common way we sabotage our weight loss goals, but it doesn't have to be that way. By recognizing your emotional eating habits, you can start changing those bad habits and take control of your diet.

Food for Thought

Eating only when you're hungry makes sense on an intellectual level but, emotionally, food often represents more than just a mixture of inanimate ingredients. For many of us, food is a reward for doing something good, a comfort when we're feeling bad or even something to do when we're bored. People often turn to food when they feel:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety

For many of us, reaching for our favorite foods is an automatic response when we don't feel good about ourselves. Changing that automatic response isn't easy but, if you want to learn how to control your calories to lose weight or get healthy, it's worth the time and effort to figure out what's behind your emotional eating habits.

Why Are You Eating?

The first step to taking control of your eating is to figure out what triggers emotional eating for you. Do you eat more at work because of stress or boredom? Do you eat more at parties or other social situations because you're nervous or anxious? Do you eat when you're bored or lonely?

For many of us, emotional eating is such an ingrained habit, we're not even aware we're doing it. The following tools can help you keep track of your eating to give you a clearer perspective on your eating habits:

Alternatives to Eating

Once you start getting a deeper understanding of your eating habits, you can work on ways to cope with your feelings other than reaching for food. Just a few ideas include:

  • Exercise. It helps relieve stress and anxiety, generates energy and it makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Get in touch. Talking to a friend or an online support group may give you the support you need to avoid reaching for.
  • Drink water. We often mistake thirst for hunger and filling up with water may help you avoid extra calories.
  • Take a walk. Walking is good for your body, but it's always a great way to practice moving meditation and work through problems.
  • Listen to your favorite song. Music can be a great way to sooth yourself when you're stressed, bored or tired.
  • Drink some tea. One of my favorite ways to curb unexpected cravings is to drink herbal tea. It fills me up and adding a little honey often satisfies my sweet tooth.
  • Try yoga. Relaxing your body and mind is a great way to take a step back from big emotions before you do something you might regret.

Make your own list of ideas and work on trying at least one new one each week as you start dealing with your emotional eating habits. Changing bad habits, especially bad eating habits, takes time, patience and diligence but it's worth it to get control of your eating and learn how to handle your emotions without food.

Sources:

Geliebter, Allan and Aversa, Angela. Emotional eating in overweight, normal weight, and underweight individuals. Eating Behaviors, Volume 3, Issue 4, January 2003.

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