Everybody occasionally indulges in a little comfort eating. It might be a bigger than usual dessert as a treat to themselves after a particularly hard day, or a big bar of chocolate after a row with a partner. Occasional emotional eating then is normal and relatively harmless. When it becomes a habit however, that is no longer the case and often makes maintaining that healthy diet you aspire to all but impossible.
How Do You Know if You are an Emotional Eater?
There are several signs that experts consider to be ‘classic’ when it comes to emotional eating. These include:
- Eating when you are not hungry.
- Finding it hard to find foods you like, so when you do you eat too much of them.
- Eating certain things is triggered by emotions – anger, sadness, stress or boredom.
- You eat things and do not even enjoy or taste them. Mindlessly eating chips while watching TV, just out of habit, is a very good example.
Why Do We Find Food Comforting?
There are a number of reasons that people find food comforting. One is actually down to biology. When people experience stress their bodies flood with a substance called cortisol. This makes us crave sugars and carbohydrates, therefore some foods are comforting because of the actual chemical changes they cause in the body.
Eating chocolate, for example, releases the ‘feel good’ chemical serotonin into your system, so for a short time at least the chocolate really does make you feel better! People also eat to distract themselves from a situation they would prefer not to think about and even in order to relive happy memories in times of stress.
How Do I Stop It?
The good news is that although it does take hard work, and a little creativity, you can conquer emotional eating. You can also do this naturally, without the need for supplements or medications. Here are some tips:
Step 1- Be Aware
In order to fix any problem you have to be aware of it and acknowledge that it exists. Keep a food journal for a week or so, something that will allow you to begin to see the patterns in your emotional eating. Make a note of what you ate and how you were feeling – or what you had been dealing with – when you did.
Also rank, on a scale of 1-10 (honestly) how hungry you really were before you ate. A 6-10 means you really were, less than that, you may have just been comfort eating.
Step 2 – Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones
If you are going to successfully replace food as a source of comfort and stress relief, you will need something to replace it. One great idea; take your stress to the gym ASAP. Exercise essentially burns away the chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine that cause stress. At the same time, a good workout releases endorphins into the system. Endorphins are morphine-like hormones that are responsible for the feeling of elation, or well being. Other chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are also released in the brain during exercise. Together, these give a feeling of safety and security that contributes to off-setting some of the “internal” causes of stress,
Step 3 – Drink (or sip) Black Tea
The British have a habit of offering a cup of tea to people in almost any stressful situation. Recent studies have actually shown there may be more to this than just ethnic habit. In a study of seventy five people half were told to drink black tea when feeling stress, the others a placebo drink. Of those who had a cuppa, 47% experienced an immediate drop in cortisol levels, while only 27% of the placebo drinkers did.
Step 4 – Find Small Distractions
Rather than reaching for a cookie because your boss has you madder than heck go for a quick walk instead, even if it is just around the office. Or sing along with a favorite song. Music is a great stress reliever, and it is hard to sing with your mouth full!
Step 5 – Practice and Be Patient
You really cannot cure an emotional eating issue in a day, it takes practice and slip ups are probably inevitable. However, by being aware of the issue and making a commitment to change you can get there in the end.