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How to stop emotional eating
NUTRITION WELLNESS

How to stop emotional eating

Stop! Are you looking for just a little something sweet to help you through your day? How many times have you used this excuse, to turn to food to make you feel better? Well, you may be an emotional eater!

Food represents so much more than what it is. We use food to provide connection, social interaction, rewards, punishment and attachment.  However, food is just food. Food provides our body with nutrients to help us live, grow and thrive. Many of us Live to Eat rather than Eat to Live.

From a young age, many of us learn that food is connected or linked to our emotions. How many times does a parent or carer give a child, chocolate as a reward or restrict food, as punishment? These types of associations can instil in us, a negative emotional relationship with food which can affect us greatly later in life.

What is emotional eating?

 

There are many reasons why we develop emotional attachments to food. Some of these reasons may include; stress, trauma, grief, self-sabotage, conditioned behaviour and the list can be endless.

Emotional eating, is using food to create a positive response in our body to negate or attain a better feeling. However, using food does not fill an emotional need, it will not replace the feeling you are trying to achieve, but can potentially compound a problem, because you may also feel guilty later that you over ate.

When you are upset, stressed or low in mood, there is a decrease in the good feeling brain chemical, serotonin. To make you feel better an increase is needed. Foods that are high in sugar/carbohydrate can temporarily increase serotonin production in the brain, unfortunately, the effects are short lived. We may feel better or have a sense of elation for only just a short moment, but we cannot replace long term problems with instant gratification.  

The negative long term effects occur when dependency develops, when we may be chasing that “good feeling rush” and we increase in weight or other health problems occur as a result of the regular intake of eating high sugar/ carbohydrate foods.

 

Am I an emotional eater?

 

If you are not sure if you eat food to help you fill that emotional void, then try answering the following questions:

  • Do you eat when you are upset or stressed?
  • Is food your comforter or friend?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Do you eat to make your feelings go away, or to make yourself feel better?
  • Do you feel out of control when you eat?
  • Do you eat when you are not hungry or over eat?

If you answered yes, to three or more questions, then you may be an emotional eater.

 

How can I stop my emotional eating?

 

This can be a loaded question! If you think your emotional eating is long term and connected to more traumatic emotional issues, then consider:

  • Getting professional help - Seek professional help from a counsellor or support groups like, Over Eaters Anonymous if you feel that you have more deep seated emotional issues.

  • Eat only when you are hungry- Listen to your body and only eat when you are hungry.  Our satiety centre is located within our brain not our stomach! Our body produces a hormone called leptin to tell us when we are full and no longer require food. Listen to your body when it signals that it’s had enough.

  • Mindful eating – When you do eat, make it more of a ritual and sit down to eat. Eating with good company, friends and family can make your meals more meaningful.

  • Keep a diet dairy – Record what food you eat in a day, this may help you to identify what foods you are eating and you can also record how you feel when you eat certain foods or what feelings are triggered when you eat.

  • Self-care- Often a difficult one for many to do. Try being kind to yourself.  Do something for yourself, that you haven’t done in a long time or take some time for yourself. You deserve it!

  • Exercise- Is the serotonin elevator! Being active and moving, helps to increase your ‘feel good’ factor. Do something that will be fun and that you enjoy.

  • Need Comfort – Get some comforting words from a friend or a family member. Ring a friend who will listen, understand and has time for a chat.

  • Meditation and relaxation – Learn to do mindful meditation. Meditation can really help to calm the mind and evoke a sense of relaxation and control. Incorporate deep breathing in your meditation, trying to maintain a daily practice, will help minimise stress and clear the mind.

  • Happy rewards – If you feel like you need a reward, then give yourself one. Reward yourself in other ways, rather than with food such as: Treat yourself to a new book, a massage, meet up with a friend or go on a shopping trip.


Whilst, you may think that food has control over you, it does not. Remember food has no emotions, it cannot talk, hug, support or fill that emotional void. Follow some of these ideas to help you on the road to being emotionally free from food.

Health Disclaimer: Seek professional help, from a counsellor or a support group who may help with long term emotional or traumatic issues.

Michelle Matthews
Author

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