What do you do when you're feeling down, stressed, tired or just bored?
Indulge in a spot of comfort eating perhaps? Sometimes when we are at our weakest points emotionally we make our worst food choices. This isn't a problem if it happens just occasionally, but what happens when our emotions start to take over our eating? Are we simply feeding our feelings?
What is emotional eating? Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe emotions (often negative), such as stress, anger, boredom, sadness and loneliness. However, it can also be linked to positive feelings such as romance, reward and celebration.
How common is it?
Research suggests that 75pc of overeating is caused by emotions. As a nutritional therapist who counsels people on their eating habits every day, I'd have to concur.
Why is it a problem?
It can seriously sabotage your weight-loss efforts because it's a vicious cycle -- your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for pigging out, you feel bad, and you overeat again. getting a handle on any tendency to eat in response to emotions is one of the most important factors in achieving long-term weight management.
How to overcome emotional eating
1Learn how to differentiate between hunger, desire and cravings
Many of us have difficulty distinguishing between true hunger, a desire to eat and a craving. But it's vital that you now how to differentiate between them, so here's how:
If you haven't eaten for hours, your stomach feels empty and is rumbling, that's hunger. If you've just eaten a full meal but you fancy having seconds, that's a desire. If you have a sudden and strong urge to eat something specific, that's a craving.
2 Identify your triggers
One of the best ways to identify your own personal triggers is to keep a journal. Write down what you ate, how much, and how you felt as you ate (eg bored, happy, worried, sad, stressed) and whether you were really hungry or just eating for comfort. You'll start to see patterns emerging between what you feel and what you eat. You'll also be able to identify whether particular circumstances, people or events act as triggers.
3Acknowledge what's going on
The next time you have a strong urge to eat something unhealthy, take a moment to think before you act. Acknowledge what's going on. Tell yourself 'This feeling is just a craving, it's strong and uncomfortable but it's not an emergency and it will pass'. In fact, cravings reach their peak after 20 minutes, at which point they lose their power and start to pass.
4 Identify your emotional triggers
Do you remember a time when a natural distraction interrupted your craving and later you were glad you hadn't eaten? Maybe a friend called or your child demanded attention. By the time you had finished with what you had to do, your craving had weakened and passed! Next time you experience a craving, place your focus on a distracting activity -- go for a walk, do a chore, write an e-mail etc. You'll be surprised how quickly the craving will subside.
5Stop fooling yourself We all have a number of 'permission giving' thoughts that allow us to justify eating the wrong foods. These thoughts often start with the phrase, 'I know I shouldn't eat this, but it's okay because . . .' They end with excuses such as 'I'm stressed; it's just a little piece; I'll make up for it tomorrow; I'm celebrating; it will go to waste; I've been so good lately, etc.'
Learning how to respond to your own excuses is a skill that you can use to manage your weight. Find a response that works for you, write it down, and refer to it when temptation strikes. Here's an example: 'I can't have it both ways, I can't eat whatever I want and be slim. Though I might feel good for a few minutes, I'll feel bad afterwards. If I want to lose weight and keep it off, I absolutely must stop fooling myself.' The longer you use these new thinking skills, the more automatic they'll become.
Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritional therapist. She offers one-to-one consultations as well as group workshops. www.elsajonesnutrition.ie