There are times when I forget to eat, or lack an appetite due to stress. But like many others, there are also times when I “stress eat.” It’s those times when I give myself a license to eat whatever in the world I want without a thought of how it will affect my waistline.
I don’t overeat, but I usually reach for things that I know are calorie-dense: something chocolate, something fried or something buttery. I probably could have a few meals and a snack for the same calorie and fat gram counts. We know it’s wrong to find solace in unhealthy food, but it’s an easy and temporary fix.
It’s not just me, though. Researchers say there is a strong connection between mood and food that has been with us since birth. Like medicine, we tend to want to heal ourselves with food. It temporarily eases the emotional hunger we are experiencing.
And according to a poll sponsored by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, more than a fourth of American families feel food is an important way to show affection.
We nurture and show love with food. When a baby cries, it’s often soothed with a warm bottle. When a child loses an athletic game or cries after getting a shot at the doctor’s office, they quickly forget over a bowl of ice cream. It’s only logical that those same associations between food and nurturing follow us into adulthood.
While losing weight, if you haven’t turned off that connection, emotional distress can sabotage previous efforts.
It may take time to acknowledge that you are an emotional eater and a lot of discipline to correct it. Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic to help tame emotional or stress eating:
Handle the stress: Look for a stress management technique other than food such as yoga, meditation or relaxation.
Have a hunger reality check: Learn to recognize real hunger versus emotional hunger. If you just ate and your stomach is not grumbling, you may not be hungry. Drink water and give the craving time to pass.
Keep a food diary: Keep up with what you eat, when you ate it and how you felt when you ate it. You may identify patterns that reveal the connection between your mood and food.
Get support: Without a support system, you’re more likely to give in to emotional eating. Learn to lean on family and friends instead.
Fight boredom: When bored, distract yourself with some kind of activity such as walking, a movie, music or books.
Take away temptation: If it’s not there, you’re less likely to consume comfort or junk food.
Don’t deprive yourself: While on a weight-loss plan, don’t restrict calories too much, as it may increase food cravings, leading to binging.
Snack healthy: If you have to eat between meals, reach for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables or unbuttered popcorn.
Learn from setbacks: Make sure to forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Focus on the positive changes and the progress you’ve already made.