We talked about emotional eating in our last article where we explored the correlation between feelings and food intake. In this article, we will be considering how one can limit emotional eating.

Think about how you eat

If you apply some thought as to the reasons why you eat, you may notice that there is a difference in how you feel. For example, emotional eating tries to alleviate stress or reduce boredom or creates reward instead of satisfying physical hunger. It feels different.

Emotional hunger is usually sudden and led by the mind. It does not quench a physical need. Rather, it craves specific types of food and isn’t sated, even when you are physically full. On top of this, there can also be accompanying feelings of guilt which can in turn fuel a toxic cycle.

Physical hunger, on the other hand, is emotion-free. It comes on gradually and is located in the stomach. It is satisfied when full without any feelings of guilt.

Photo by Vincenzo Giove from Pexels

Tips to ensure you respond to physical and not emotional hunger:

  • Pre-plan. You are more likely to make conscious positive food choices if you plan your meals in advance for the week rather than responding to emotional cravings on a whim.
  • Stop to eat at regular pre-set times when you would usually be hungry. This way you learn to recognise and respond to physical hunger cues. Do not wait until you are ravenous. Make time to pay attention to the process of eating. In other words, do not attempt to multitask when you are eating. Stop what you are doing to partake in your meal, even if you are alone. Eating whilst on a conference call, whilst emailing or whilst you are playing with your I Phone will always be non-mindful, making it more likely that you are responding to emotional hunger rather than a physical need.

Mindful Eating Habits:

  • Pause before you eat – Really engage with your food and the experience of eating. Consider the size of the portion, the colour of the food, the weight of the food in your hand, the smell, the shape.
  • Ask yourself if you are hungry – where is it in the body? How does it feel in the body? What does physical hunger feel like? Is there a shape or colour you associate with physical hunger? Be curious and open. Just notice this and do not judge. Be present with the process and the experience.
  • Start small and slow – place a small morsel of food in your mouth and really take the time to notice the sensations, texture, taste & smell. Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Really take your time. Don’t rush, rather notice the point at which you are tempted to swallow?
  • Repeat, paying attention – take the next mouthful and repeat the above steps until you have finished the meal.

Explore your feelings

Let yourself experience feelings away from food. Take time each day to reflect on how you feel and whether it is leading you to crave food in an unhelpful way. Check-in with yourself regularly.

Ask yourself questions like “How am I feeling?” “When do I feel most stressed?”

Examine your emotions before going to the fridge on auto pilot.

Are there any patterns?

Notice when you increase or limit your food intake. What are the triggers?

Note down the situations that lead to eating and are there particular types of food associated with particular situations?

Start fresh

Don’t beat yourself up or berate yourself over one bad day. If you had a bad day or moment do not let it seep into the next day. This will only make emotional eating more likely.

Let it go and start again from the moment you realise you slipped into emotional eating.

Put a note on the fridge at home

“Is this visit to the fridge an emotional or physical visit?” You can even put notes inside the fridge as further reminders. These notes should not be judgmental. They should be inquiring – inviting you to consider rather than a scolding.

Physical health and mental health are inextricably linked. If you maintain good physical health, your mental health will benefit and vice versa. Limiting emotional eating will help you maintain good physical and mental health.

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