Have you ever found yourself overeating when dealing with your feelings? Then you might have fallen “victim” to emotional eating – a term used to describe people turning to food to either manage, conceal, or even revel in strong human emotions. Tiredness, boredom, stress, elation, sadness or loneliness are just some feelings that might trigger emotional eating. You are definitely not alone if you engage in emotional eating; it has become a habit for many people who seek comfort or relief from stress. But it’s also a habit that can be overcome with a few easy tricks, so let’s dive in to look at some common triggers for emotional eating, and how to beat it… for good!
Stressful situations such as work problems, finances, or family issues may all lead to you indulging in food so as to soothe those feelings related to what you are dealing with. Thus, it’s important to understand your personal hunger cues, recognising whether you are indeed hungry or just eating for stress-relief. The next time you have the urge to raid the fridge, pause and observe the reasons behind your cravings.
Easy Trick 1: Breathe!
This seemingly sounds too straightforward, but there’s a reason why deep breathing is probably found in almost every list of meditation or stress-relief practices – because it works! Instead of heading straight to your snack bar, simply close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply for about 2 to 4 minutes, filling your stomach with air then breathing it out.
Craving for food when you are exhausted or fatigued is a very common behaviour. After working in front of a computer for several hours on end, it is natural to turn towards comfort food when your brain is too tired to make more complicated decisions.
Easy Trick 2: Break Time!
Instead of eating when you find yourself mentally or physically burned out, distract yourself from this trigger by taking a break from what you are doing that is making you tired. This can be heading outside for a walk, taking a quick nap, or even doing some breathing exercises as per the above. Whatever it is, allow yourself to reset fully before resuming what you have been doing before.
Boredom is another common trigger for emotional eating, especially when many of us are cooped up or working at home much more often during the pandemic. Without proper strategies to cope with boredom, we end up eating, or overeating, because eating is “doing something” after all.
Easy Trick 3: Drink Up!
To relieve yourself from boredom, it is good to plan and list down in advance some activities you can do, so that turning to food isn’t your first impulse. But if you really feel like you need to eat something, drink a glass of water first! Not only is water healthy and important for hydration, it can also distract you from your hunger cues. We tend to mistake thirst for hunger, so try out to see if water can satiate you.
It is not unheard of to use food as a means to distract yourself from or overcome negative emotions such as loneliness or sadness. When eating, you may find a bit of respite, but these negative emotions often come back once you are done eating, which results in a vicious cycle of eating and feeling lousy thereafter.
Remind yourself that in most circumstances, emotions are temporary and soon pass in time. Activities like writing a journal, exercising or speaking with someone about your feelings are also ways to distract yourself from such emotions.
Easy Trick 4: Music!
The power of music in helping you feel more positive, energised and uplifted cannot be understated. Create a playlist that consists of such music you can listen to whenever you are feeling down. You can use a platform like Spotify to curate your songs, or even YouTube has some good music that you can create your playlist with.
Overcoming emotional eating is not something you might be able to achieve overnight, so it’s crucial to show patience towards yourself. Bad food habits are formed over your lifetime, hence giving them up requires a while. Start with being aware of each trigger, and explore more productive ways to cope with such intense emotions. Run through this list again whenever you have the impulse to engage in emotional eating, and take the first small but important step towards curbing the urge to self-soothe with food, for good!