Avoiding emotional eating

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Eating is a complex event. Physical, mental, and emotional needs all have a role in our eating habits. This can be good and bad.

Why good? Think about how boring life would be if eating delicious food elicited no response besides meeting our calorie needs. Sugar cookies make me happy because I remember having fun baking with my mom. My friends Sharon and Melanie introduced me to sushi, so I relive fun adventures each time I eat a spicy tuna roll. The emotional and mental response to eating makes our lives fuller and richer.

Unfortunately, it can make our waistlines fuller as well. Many people struggle with emotional eating, myself included. Here are some tips to help with emotional eating while still enjoying your food.

– Avoid eating alone. I eat many more Oreos when I’m home alone than if my husband is around. Social pressure on eating can be a good thing at times, if it helps you to eat a more moderate amount. Also, you can talk about your emotions with other people rather than eating over your problems.

-Try to focus on the actual source of your emotional problem or need. For example, avoid this: “I’m unhappy, so I’m going to eat a cookie to feel better.” Try this: “I’m unhappy. Why? Am I hungry/tired/lonely/bored, etc?” Hunger can make us grumpy. But when you stop and realize it is actual hunger making you unhappy, you are more likely to make a healthy choice when you eat. If you aren’t hungry, you can focus on solving the problem rather than just ignoring it for awhile by eating ice cream.

-Don’t buy your trigger foods. In the cartoon “The Hedge”, the potato chip slogan is “Enough is never enough.” This perfectly describes emotional eating. You didn’t begin hungry, so you don’t ever feel “full”. And you worry that the “happiness” might end if you stop eating. If you avoid having your trigger foods around, you won’t get caught eating an entire bag/package/plate/container of whatever it is.

-Never give up on yourself. We are all trying to be better. If a bad day sets you back on your eating goals, put it behind you. Just because you had a bout of emotional eating yesterday doesn’t mean you will today. My daughter pushed me to my emotional limits last week, and I may or may not have eaten every scrap of chocolate I could find in the house. But this week, I’m focusing on healthier snacks and finding mental release through reading and exercise. While I may have snuck some fruit snacks today, it is generally getting better.

Good luck!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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