Emotional Eating: Why we do it and how we can manage it

Living in a fast paced world where we predominantly sit behind screens and are bombarded with messages from our computers, phones and watches with easy access to cheap, calorie dense foods, it is not surprising that we often resort to emotional eating. This is not a problem if it happens on occasion but if you feel like this is happening too often it might be time to address it. Our patients frequently ask me for advice on emotional eating so I have summarised some of the things we discuss and some of the tools we utilise for you here.

In a nutshell, emotional eating is a very common coping mechanism for stress, discomfort and trauma so interventions usually focus on identifying as opposed to oppressing the true emotion felt. Triggering emotions can include anger, frustration, anticipation, sadness, guilt, boredom, disdain, fear, grief, exhaustion and shame.

From that, you can identify when this particular emotion is felt and how it triggers you to eat as a coping mechanism. We usually do this to ignite positive, usually short-lived feelings of comfort and temporary distraction, frequently followed by feelings of guilt, regret and shame. 

Once you have mapped out these patterns and documented them for a while by writing down triggers, times, emotions and resulting actions and food choices for few weeks, you will have a clearer picture of what is going on. 

From that you can then devise alternative coping mechanisms for each situation. You can make plans for each triggering situation you have identified and map out that, when (a) happens, I will do (b) or (c) instead of resorting to emotional eating. 

Unhealthy food choices can be managed by removing them from your environment and having healthy snacks available instead. Great options include cut up carrots and sugar snap peas with hummus or salsa when you crave something crunchy or a savoury broccoli and chives soup when you want something warm. 

You can also plan to replace emotional eating episodes with going for a walk, doing some drawing, calling a loved one or doing anything else that distracts you and elevates your mood.

Always remember that you are not alone – on occasion, most people resort to emotional eating. This is not a problem if it happens on occasion but if it ends up being your main coping mechanism it’s definitely a good idea to address it. 

If you feel you need more help, ask for a referral from your GP. Make today the day you start taking control of health. You deserve to live a healthy, happy and fulfilled life. 

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