I’m certain we’ve all been there twice or three times - I know I have, recently too - repeatedly visiting the refrigerator in the hopes of finding something edible to curb our boredom or munching endlessly for no reason in particular. Or is it that the real concern just isn’t addressed? If this sounds like what is happening with you, keep reading as this can be a sign of emotional eating.
Also known as stress eating, emotional eating, by definition, is consuming large amounts of junk food as a response to anything but physical hunger. Studies show that stress affects our eating behaviours in various ways. However, more often than not, a negative mood state, like sadness or loneliness, can directly impact indulgence in comfort foods that are sometimes high in fat and/ or salt, thereby reducing the presence of more healthful foods in the diet. We are more susceptible to emotional eating due to our hormones and menstrual cycles as well, unlike our male counterparts. *side eye*
There is hope though as various practices can be employed in order to reduce our instances of falling into the emotional eating trap, repeatedly.
1. Give yourself a cutoff period.
For once, I under-packed my lunch-bag for the day and when I got home, two hours shy of midnight, I was starving. I decided to have lasagna and my eye was definitely longer than my tummy. Alas, the masterpiece was already reheated so I decided to enjoy it and get some work done before bed. There was no need to feel guilty because it was a rare occurrence and I was back on track thereafter, for the rest of that week.
No one masters perfection when it comes to food choices, but allow yourself a little cheat now and then and get on with your healthful journey, no matter where you are. Don’t get into the habit of making a cheat day a cheat week or month.
2. Change your food environment.
By substituting your snacks for healthier options and keeping the ‘nutrient poor’ ones a bit out of reach (altering food-related cues in your environment) you’ll be able to snack without the feeling of guilt after. The same guilt that can sometimes result in the vicious cycle between negative feelings and less than optimum food choices. Making your physical context one that is food secure is definitely a step in the right direction. In this instance, food security speaks to the foods that are beneficial to your body, especially in the long run.
Also, coming to terms with the real concern that’s causing this eating pattern is super important. Are you physically hungry or just emotionally so? Bluntly put - stress sucks and it’s one of the most common roots of emotional eating (hence the previous mention of stress eating). Although it may be more difficult for some, depending on the quantity and quality of stressors in our individual lives, it is important to take a step back, take some deep breaths and quell that feeling of nervousness rising from the pits of our stomachs.
3. Keep a food journal.
In order to note certain occurrences that may trigger emotional eating patterns, consider keeping a food journal. No matter how small, if you get into the habit of writing whatever you consume and the emotions felt, it will make it easier to tackle the issue.
Emotional eating tends to go against all facets that state our relationship with food should be one that is both positive and flexible. However, ‘eating competence’, as this practice is referred to, can be looked at as appearing on the opposite side of the spectrum from the former. After all, we are the ones in control, right?
We can all fall victim to stress eating sometimes but we should aim for that pattern to be the exception and not the rule.