According to the American Psychological Association’s 2009 Stress in America survey, almost half of Americans (48 percent) reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods to manage stress. Many people use food to fill emotional needs, contributing to overeating and being overweight. Do you use food to:
- relax or calm your nerves?
- comfort yourself?
- numb yourself from emotional pain such as sadness, hopelessness, rejection, or anger?
Steps to regain control
If you’re prone to emotional overeating, you can take steps to regain control. Below are tips and strategies to help decrease this unhealthy habit:
1. Learn to recognize true hunger versus emotional eating. If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling in your stomach, you’re probably not really hungry. When you feel the urge to eat, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Is it physical hunger or is it emotional or stress-driven hunger?”
2. Know your triggers. Use a food diary to identify when and why you eat for emotional reasons. Keep an accurate record for at least one week of what you eat, how much you eat, how you’re feeling and how hungry you are. Ask yourself: What happened today to make me feel this way? You may become aware of situations or feelings that trigger you to turn to food.
3. Face difficult emotions and stress-producing problems head on. Work on ways to face difficult emotions and stressful situations other than reaching for food. Acknowledge and address feelings of anxiety, anger or loneliness. Look for solutions to the difficult issues in your life. Talk them over with a friend or counselor, or write in a journal. Finding ways to express your feelings constructively can help clear unwanted eating patterns.
4. Find alternative behaviors to eating. Instead of turning to food, take a walk, practice yoga or meditation, listen to relaxing music, take a warm bath, read a good book, engage in a hobby, work in your garden, treat yourself to a movie, or talk to a supportive friend. Exercise regularly and get adequate rest. Each is proven to reduce stress, improve your mood and help control appetite.