Strategies to Manage Emotional Eating

Health Writer

In my new book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, I talk about the fact that no matter how well you eat, most of us have emotional triggers that often provoke unhealthy eating. Managing that kind of a relationship with food can be incredibly daunting. So I recommend using 4 strategies to manage food-provoking siturations:

  • Retraining
  • Mindfulness
  • Prepared responses
  • Asking for support

Retraining involves substituting other behaviors instead of eating to manage your emotions. So first you have to identify the triggers that set off your eating response. Maybe you eat when you get depressed, maybe when you get stressed, maybe when you feel you've had someone undermine you or challenge you. So know what "gets you into an aroused emotional state" that precedes an eating response. Then set up your alternate response. Is it writing an email that never gets sent, or picking up knitting needles, or meditating for a few minutes, or even chewing gum? Figure it out and make it your new response.

Mindfulness requires knowing what you are eating, how much you are eating and why you are eating. You should only be eating when hungry or be aware that you are choosing to celebrate with a treat. It also demands that you know the trigger foods that set you off to eat more or overeat. Maybe it's dark chocolate or bread foods or sweet candy treats. You should not keep these foods in your frig or pantry and believe that you have the power to control your urge to eat more than one serving. You may accomplish that occasionally or for a short period but as a health coach I know the food will ultimately overwhelm your inner voice. Don't keep tempting foods around.

Having prepared responses, means creating personalized behaviors, so you don't turn to food for emotional reasons. Instead choose: exercise, calling a buddy for support, listening to music, writing a journal entry, cleaning, taking a shower or bath (if you're home), deep breathing, removing yourself from the immediate area that has food (go outside). Choose one or two that become you "go to" responses and try to habitually choose it when the emotional response to turn to food is felt.

Asking for help may be the hardest new response to embrace. It means that you are willing to tell someone that you are struggling with emotional responses that cause over-eating, not an easy thing to confess. Maybe you have a family member or friend to turn to so you can "talk out" the situation; maybe it should be a therapist who can help you to manage these feelings in a healthier way.

Mostly this exercise is about getting honest with yourself and realizing that you are an emotional eater. Then you can begin to shift your behavior with these techniques.

Are you an emotional eater??