It’s no secret that our emotions impact what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat. In fact, sometimes it seems that the strongest cravings hit when our emotional and mental well-being is at its weakest. Emotional eating is a way to, in the short term, relieve or suppress negative feelings, such as sadness, stress, anger/frustration, or boredom. However, emotional eating can also lead people to make poor choices, such as skipping or forgetting meals, consuming fast food frequently, or consuming alcohol or caffeine in excess, all of which may have health consequences, including unintentional weight gain.
To help prevent emotional eating, focus on the following steps.
Identify the difference between emotional hunger and physiological hunger.
Emotional hunger typically comes on suddenly with an urge to resolve the “hunger” quickly, often involves a desire for a specific type of food or food group, and usually results in overeating. In contrast, physiological hunger tends to be more gradual, allows us to stop eating when we are full, and doesn’t typically cause guilt that is experienced with emotional hunger.
Establish a healthy eating routine.
Aim to eat two to three well-rounded meals each day. Meals don’t have to be complicated: the easier and quicker, the better. Try pairing a protein source (chicken, salmon, ground turkey or lean beef, and so on) with various grilled, roasted, or steamed vegetables and seasonings and sauces of your choice for a quick, inexpensive, and easy meal.
Ensure you’re consuming enough of the right foods. Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products while limiting your intake of highly processed foods, added sugars, salt/sodium, and alcohol. Talk with a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating routine that meets your individualized needs while helping manage causes and symptoms of emotional eating.
Manage your overall stress.
There is evidence to suggest that increased cortisol, the hormone released during stress, may result in an increased appetite, leading to overeating and potential weight gain. Rather than turning to food for comfort, be sure to control stress by journaling, exercise, practicing mindfulness/meditation, and/or social support.
This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.