Mindless munching when when tense, sad or nervous. Finding comfort from a frosted brownie. Bored and wandering through the kitchen over and over again. Does this sound familiar? These are all examples of emotional eating. Emotional eating happens when we are bored, depressed, nervous, happy, tense or sad, instead of when we are physically hungry. Usually, the food chosen is carbohydrate and fat rich as those are the foods that activate the pleasure sensors of our brain and create dopamine. The release of dopamine makes us feel good, but only for a short while, then must be repeated. As one can imagine, this pattern can wreak havoc on a healthy eating plan.
Many people are prone to this type of behavior occasionally, but if it is a pattern, there are steps that must be practiced to break this cycle and get back on the road to healthy pattern.
It is helpful to keep a food journal for a week or more. The record should include feelings and situations that occurred before you had unplanned eating binges. Looking over these notes should bring some insight over what triggers emotional eating for you. Times of day can also trigger desire for food, so it is important to keep a detailed journal. Armed with this information, one can make a plan to battle the situations that trigger emotional eating by planning how your will react to the stimulus that is making you want to eat.
At first, one will have to be very aware and have a rigid plan in place. Food Planning: This could mean all food for the day is portioned out in the morning (or the night before) for the entire day. We are talking meals and plenty of healthy snacks. This will create a boundary of sorts. The rest of the kitchen is off limits. Later, as one adjusts, they can just have an eating plan on paper and check it off as they go through the day. If a certain time of day has been problematic, then the need to be doing something else which makes eating an impossibility. Arrange to be out of the house or on the go if necessary. Make it a rule to never have food in the car. In fact, all eating should be done only at the table. Put down a full place setting. If desired, make an occasion of it spread a pretty cloth and maybe a single flower in front of your place and put on some music. Make it enjoyable. Concentrate on the food and how it is nourishing your body. After all, that is the real reason for eating. This will eliminate the unconscious overeating that multi-tasking while eating causes.
Despite having a plan, sometimes that uncomfortable, restless urge strikes and comfort food is crying out. Have a list of activities that don’t involve food. First, acknowledge the feelings that are behind the desire for food. Then pick from your go to list. Perhaps a hot luxurious bath is in order. Dance, draw, read or get out of the house. Mow the lawn or wash the car. Listen your favorite song or write in your journal. Build new habits to distract yourself and over time, these new activities will become increasingly automatic.