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5 Ways to Prevent Emotional Eating from Taking Over

Happy Wellness Wednesday! This week Anna Wootton, an emotional eating expert, shares with us how to avoid reaching for food to quell emotions, stress or even boredom.

We’ve all been there – whether it’s the clichéd tub of ice cream after a break-up, or simply a mindless reaching for that bag of chips when you’re bored, or heading to the food court after a disheartening session of trying on swimsuits (news flash: this will always be disheartening, no matter what size you are. Change-room lights are no one’s friend!).

5 Ways to Prevent Emotional Eating from Taking Over

Emotional eating is ever present and will always pop up from time to time in your life. We can all aim to be perfect and to realize that yes, food is meant as fuel and can be pleasurable in fueling us, but should not be used to feed anything else – emotions or otherwise – but this is not always realistic. Chances are there will be times when you reach for that bar of dark chocolate because you need a pick me up, even though you’re not that hungry.

The aim is not to be perfect, but to prevent these small and infrequent occurrences from taking over and becoming the norm, to the point where your brain immediately turns to thought of food whenever it needs comfort, relief or distraction. This is when emotional eating becomes a problem. So how do we stop this from happening?

Below I have listed FIVE WAYS to raise awareness of your eating habits and make smart choices that will prevent you from relying on food as a mental or emotional crutch.

1. Avoid foods that don’t serve you. Whether you believe sugar really is addictive or just plain tasty, studies have been done that show it’s hard to stop when we get on the sugar train. Limiting the amount of processed and simple sugars in our diet will help break the sugar cycle. It’s hard enough to avoid reaching for foods when we’re feeling sad (and sugar is the first one we will crave because it gives us that little boost or ‘high’ that can make us feel instantly happier), but reaching for a food that only encourages you to keep eating will make your efforts feel that much harder. On a similar note, avoid any foods you have an intolerance to, however slight. Research has suggested that foods we cannot tolerate well may be the foods we crave the most. If you struggle with gluten, dairy, corn, or other common food sensitivities, try to avoid them as much as possible.

2. Focus on dealing with your emotions as soon as they arise. Identify your triggers – most people have a few. Some will reach for food when they feel angry or irritated, others when their self-esteem is at its low point, others when they feel stressed or anxious. When you can focus on your triggers, you can spot those emotions as soon as they arise, and deal with them right away. Nipping them in the bud will prevent the next step – reaching for food. It’s when we push our emotions down and try to ignore them that our mind will try to find a release in other ways – drinking, eating, smoking, you name it. Addressing the fact that we are experiencing a negative emotion and – even better – giving ourselves a chance to release that emotion in a healthy, constructive way will help us to avoid the need to distract our mind from these feelings with things like food. Try journaling or meditation, even just 10 minutes a day, or talking to a friend as soon as you feel insecurity, anxiety, anger, sadness, or any other negative emotion bubble up.

3. Keep a list of healthy snacks on hand. While it’s easy to imagine ways to come up with healthy and balanced meals, snack options are often just disguised desserts which only encourage unnecessary snack binges. To avoid temptation, keep a list of ten healthy, go-to snacks for you to turn to when you feel hunger knocking at your door. Try to include a healthy fat or protein in each snack so that you can stay satiated for longer and keep your blood sugar more stable, which will help resist the urge to reach for sugary items.

4. Let food be thy medicine. If you want to turn to food for relief, rather than being ‘tricked’ by the foods that give quick relief but don’t serve you nutritionally, turn to foods that can help. When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint or ginger are relaxing and soothing for mind and body. If you’re feeling overly fatigued or depressed, throw some superfoods like maca powder, spirulina or camu camu powder into a green smoothie and let the effects of the fresh fruit and veggies and superfoods provide the physical and mental energy boost you need. This is an especially useful tactic if you are already starting to struggle with emotional eating, as your mind is no doubt preoccupied with food when emotions hit. This way you can work on slowly changing your mind’s reliance on food, while in the meantime channelling it into healthy food choices.

5. Remember: No one’s perfect. The key is to always forgive yourself. The punishing cycle of guilt and self-loathing because you ‘fell off the wagon’ only perpetuates the cycle. No one is benefiting from you sitting on the couch berating yourself for your lack of willpower or your ‘weakness’ for having eaten more cookies than you intended. Even those who have never struggled with disordered eating of any kind will make poor choices – it’s part of being human. Just laugh it off, forgive yourself and remember that a few bad choices do not make a bad person.

Emotional eating is always a sign of something troubling going on beneath the surface, something that needs addressing and dealing with but is being ignored. Looking deep within ourselves to identify the root of these issues is absolutely key to banishing emotional eating once and for all. This can sound depressing and scary, so in my eight-week Life is About FUN, Not Food! emotional eating program, I focus on using positivity and light to make this process less intimidating and more enlightening, fun and exciting! For more on this group coaching program – which can be purchased as a self-study program at more than 70% off the regular price – click here.

Anna headshot
Anna Wootton is a holistic health coach and emotional eating expert who offers group and one-on-one coaching online. With clients all over the world, sessions are completed via video chat with email support. Anna is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and blogs over at Your Healthy Place. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and like her page on Facebook to keep up with her latest goings-on. Subscribe to her newsletter to receive her free ebook, 5 Fabulous Ways to Live a Life About FUN, Not Food!

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is great. I sometimes eat just to break up pacing when working from home. I am going to look at that as a trigger for future. Thanks.

    May 14, 2014
    • Mine is when I’m bored or putting off doing something. I guess the trick is just figuring out a productive distraction, rather than reaching for food. Glad this was helpful!

      May 15, 2014

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