Breaking the Habit of Emotional Eating

Breaking the habit of emotional eating can be tough, but it's important to find good strategies for coping with the feelings that may be causing us to overeat. "Some people may not recognize the many social and emotional connotations to eating," explains Rebecca Myrowitz, dietitian with GBMC's Comprehensive Obesity Management Program (COMP). "It may be a way we reward ourselves for a job well done or how we celebrate a holiday. Or, conversely, it may be the comfort that we seek after a bad day at work."

So how do you break the cycle? First, identify what emotions are triggering food binges-Stress? Depression? Anxiety? Happiness?-Your nutrition journal is a great tool that can help track these types of patterns. After determining your main triggers, you can focus on your action plan to avoid emotional eating.

Rebecca suggests a number of helpful alternatives to turning to food when we're sad, or want to celebrate. Instead of heading for the refrigerator:

  • Go for a walk
  • Call a friend to vent about what's upsetting you
  • Write about how you feel in a journal
  • Sing
  • Take a warm bath

When individuals find themselves in social situations, such as family gatherings or holiday celebrations, where they are tempted to overeat, Rebecca suggests considering a the following:

  • Remember, there is more to the holidays than just food: family, friends, laughter, love, etc.
  • Don't skip any meals to "save your appetite" for a big dinner because that sets you up for overeating.
  • Consider eating smaller portions for breakfast and lunch, but don't come to dinner starving. Have a small snack in advance like an apple or string cheese to take the edge off of your hunger.
  • Bring a healthy food item with you to the meal. This way you can control at least one of the platters.
  • When you fill your plate, make sure there is space between the foods to help you avoid overfilling your plate.
  • Eat slowly. Taste each bite, savor the food, company and atmosphere.
  • Exercise that day as well. Either walk off your dinner or enjoy a relaxed, family activity together.

Rebecca also reminds, "It is a holiday, not a holiWEEK or a holiYEAR, so enjoy the holiday but don't prolong your eating for months because 'it is the holiday season.'"

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