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How to Reduce Emotional Eating

Aah emotional eating. An activity that has characterized much of our leisure time in 2020 and now into 2021.

Did you know there are three types of hunger? They include physical hunger (duh) and mouth hunger. I go into a lot of detail about what these are and how to satisfy them in my previous post here.

And then of course, there is emotional hunger. Emotional eating is something we likely all have done.

We experience emotional hunger when we're driven to eat in response to some emotion.

For instance, if you've had a stressful or rough day, you might want your favourite comfort food to feel better. A classic rom-com image comes to mind, with the heartbroken heroine pint-deep in ice cream and chocolate.

But emotional eating is actually not just reserved for negative emotions; it can be for positive and happy times too. For example, in most cultures around the world, food is used for celebration. Whether it’s cake on a birthday, a beautiful indulgent meal at a wedding, or a giant spread on Thanksgiving…these can all be considered emotional eating.

We even see a form of emotional eating when we are bored and want to snack on everything. I mean, eating is just an easy and entertaining activity in and of itself no?

I want to assure you that emotional eating is not automatically a “bad” thing. It is very normal and everyone does it.

It CAN, however, be a concern if food is your only coping mechanism…or even if it’s your main coping mechanism. This is where you might want to explore other ways to deal with your emotions.

How to Reduce Emotional Eating

Identify the Triggers

If you feel like you use food as a primary coping mechanism and want to reduce emotional eating, the first thing you have to do is identify what triggers are driving you to the kitchen.

This will be different for everyone. It’s important to remember that there are certain things that are so subconscious and deep in us that this step is not easy to do.

Think about it…since you were a child, you probably had adults (with the purest of intentions) reward you with food when you did something well or comfort you with food when you were sad or hurt. These events have lasting consequences; they morph into our automatic instinct to turn to food as a coping mechanism in adulthood.

It can take a lot of observation and self-reflection to become consciously aware our triggers. This is not an overnight journey and that is okay.

Common emotions that can drive us to food are:

  • Stress

  • Sadness

  • Anxiety

  • Boredom

  • Loneliness

  • Anger

Address the Underlying Emotion

Maybe you identify, "Hey, you know, I tend to always eat the cookies when I am lonely". Then, the next time you find yourself reaching for the cookies, you can start to think, "I’m just lonely and the cookie isn’t actually helping with that. Can I call a friend instead?"

Or when you’re happy and have energy, maybe putting on music and dancing around your home, whether it’s by yourself or with your loved ones, is a better way to lean into that joy.

So what are other things we can turn to, other than food, when we are sad or happy or bored? Here is a quick brainstormed list, but take time to explore what you enjoy.

  • Reading a book

  • Calling a friend/family member

  • Art/creating something (drawing, sewing, painting, crafts, decor)

  • Watching a movie

  • Going for a walk

  • Playing a board game

  • Completing a puzzle

  • Trying a new sport

  • Meditating

  • Writing/journaling

  • Taking pictures

  • Gardening

  • Shopping

“Oh no, I emotionally ate.”

First of all, THAT IS OKAY. There is no reason to feel guilty or beat yourself up over it. It happens to the best of us, I promise you.

But maybe it’s an opportunity to reflect and learn more about yourself.

For instance, take the time to ask yourself, "Did I enjoy the food?"

If yes, then AMAZING!

If no, that’s okay too! But let’s acknowledge it. Let’s unpack it a little further. Why didn’t you enjoy it? Ask yourself, "Did it help the emotion I was feeling?"

If the answer is no, maybe mindful eating would help next time.

Mindful Eating

Mindfulness, in the general sense, is to be present in the current moment. Mindful eating is to be present when you are eating (you might've pieced that one together yourself).

It may seem straightforward, but I challenge you to notice whether you are truly present the next time you're eating. Are you aware of all your senses...the aromas wafting from the food, the temperature of the food, the way it feels in your mouth, the flavours, and the way your stomach fullness changes as you continue to eat?

Or are you on your phone? Or watching TV? Or quickly trying to get some work done on your computer?

The benefit of mindful eating is being more in tune with your body and your mind. Doing this may be the key to recognizing emotional eating as it's happening and being able to either stop or to just dig in and truly appreciate and enjoy the tasty food that you're eating.


Stay nourished my friends,


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