Picture this: You hit the snooze button one too many times, had a last-minute project thrown at you at work, and then sat in an hour of evening traffic.
Finally home, you breathe a sigh of relief, head into the kitchen, and decide you deserve a snack after the day you’ve had. Maybe you reach for a few crackers, then a bit of chocolate. Before you know it, you’ve munched your way through the entire kitchen without eating a proper meal. You’re stuffed, ashamed, and wondering WHAT THE HECK just happened?!
It’s called emotional eating, and in a nutshell, it is eating for any other reason besides actual physical hunger, fuel, or nourishment.
3 Trademarks of Emotional Eating
- Binging – usually on high-sugar and carb-rich comfort foods (i.e. junk food). How many people do you know who reach for avocado and apples when they’re upset?
- Mindlessly eating – you’re not aware of what or how much you’re eating or how those foods are making your body feel.
- Eating to numb, soothe, please, relax, or reward self, i.e. “I had a bad day and deserve it” kind of thinking. Eating during these times provides temporary relief, but often leaves you feeling worse than where you started!
I know I have personally done all of these! I’d get home from a long day and feel drained so I’d just grab something until I made dinner later. Then never made dinner because I just ate a crap ton of just whatever. Or on more than one occasion saying “umm, how did this whole bag of chips disappear?”
The trouble with emotional eating is it overrides your body’s natural hunger cycle and can promote things like:
- weight gain
- an increase in your risk for inflammation and chronic disease
- create an unhealthy relationship between you and food
- lead to more danger types of disordered eating
What Triggers Emotional Eating?
Even though it’s called “emotional eating” because people often reach for food to cope with their feelings, there are a lot of other non-hunger reasons that can prompt you to eat.
Some of those reasons include:
- Uncomfortable emotions, like anger, guilt, fear, and sadness
- Stress (biggest culprit)
- Need to feel pleasure and/or comfort
Six (6) Tips to Help You Get a Handle on Emotional Eating…for good!
If any of those scenarios sound familiar, know that you’re not alone! Emotional eating affects a lot of people at one point or another.
Want to know what you can do to stop emotional eating in its tracks? Here are 6 great tips!
- Have a non-food outlet to process uncomfortable feelings – Try journaling, exercising, or talking to a trusted friend or counselor.
- Manage stress – Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, and not taking on more than you can realistically handle can help decrease stress levels.
- Recognize boredom – Call a friend, take a walk, pick up a book, or tackle a DIY project or hobby you’ll enjoy when you know boredom is likely to strike.
- Practice self-care – Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, manicure, or curl up with a good book – whatever makes you feel good!
- Practice mindful eating – Avoid distractions at meals. Your focus should be on the food in front of you. Eat slowly, chew, and savor each bite. This helps give your body time to receive the signal from your brain when it’s full. Stop eating when you feel 75% full.
- Eat a balanced diet – The majority of your diet should be nutrient-dense whole foods. Allow for occasional treats and indulgences so you don’t feel deprived. Include protein, fiber, and healthy fat at each meal to promote satiety.
Bonus tip: If you should happen to have an emotional eating moment, don’t get stressed out over it! Just don’t let it continue and continue. Each day you are allowed to start over. Remember you are human and you do not have to be perfect.
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RECIPE: Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Energy Balls
These energy balls feel like an indulgent snack, but are made from whole food ingredients and contain a bit of protein, healthy fat, and fiber to keep you fuller longer.
1 cup natural almond butter (or any natural nut butter)
½ cup coconut flour
½ cup dark chocolate chips
¼ cup maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
How to prepare
- Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, stirring until smooth. If mixture is too thick, add 1 tbsp of water at a time to help the mixture come together.
- Scoop 1 tablespoon of the mixture and use your hands to roll into a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture.
- Store energy balls in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.
Study: Current Diabetes Reports, 2018 — Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity
Study: Journal of Health Psychology, 2015 — Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating
Healthline: Mindful Eating 101 – A Beginner’s Guide