Emotional eating triggered by negative emotions are the biggest threat to our weight and waistlines. Here are some self-help tips to help you overcome emotional eating and maintain your weight.
Keep a food and mood journal: Maintaining a food diary is the first step in curbing emotional eating. Everyday honestly write down the details of every single food that you ate; how much you ate; when you ate; how you felt when you ate (eg: bored, happy, worried, sad, mad) and whether you were hungry or just eating out of boredom or for comfort. In a couple of days you will see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food and you will be able to use this information to make better choices like choosing to relieve stress with a walk instead of eating a huge slice of chocolate cake.
Find alternative responses: While it takes some time for you to learn the difference between physical and emotional hunger, whenever you crave something outside your planned meal times and are not experiencing any of the signs you identified to describe your physical hunger, wait for 10 to 15 minutes to see if the craving goes away. In the mean time get engaged in some other activity to divert your attention from food. Physical hunger intensifies if ignored, while cravings associated with emotional hunger usually disappear when distracted. So instead of eating try some of these alternate responses.
l Brush your teeth with mint flavoured toothpaste. The taste of toothpaste is likely to deter many sweet-related cravings.
l Exercise or go for a short walk: Incorporating physical activity into your daily lifestyle is a great way to relieve stress. There is a feeling of general well being after which may be the result of morphine like substances being released by the brain into the blood stream.
l Call a friend.
l Read a good book.
l Do some light cleaning.
l Play an instrument or listen to music.
l Indulge in a hobby.
l Play with your pet.
Drink a glass of water: Many people mistake thirst for hunger. So when a craving strikes first drink a glass of water and see if it passes. If it does you are not physically hungry.
Banish temptation: Do not keep hard-to-resist comfort foods such as sweets, chocolates, biscuit or potato wafers at home. Don’t go out shopping if you feel angry, sad or upset about something to avoid getting tempted into buying sugary and fatty foods to quell such feelings.
Do not deprive yourself: When trying to lose weight you might limit calories too much, eat the same foods repeatedly, and banish your favourite foods. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Just because you are on a weight loss diet, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy your favourite foods. You can definitely enjoy smaller portions of your favourite foods once in a while. See that your daily diet includes a variety of healthier foods as this will curb cravings, prevent overeating and boredom from eating the same foods everyday thereby helping you to stick to your diet plan.
Get adequate amount of sleep: Lack of proper sleep is another cause of emotional eating. Chronic lack of night time sleep causes daytime fatigue and drowsiness and makes one crave for foods that give a quick energy boost.
In the body there are two hormones – ghrelin and leptin that regulate normal feelings of hunger and satiety. Ghrelin stimulates appetite while leptin sends satiety signals to the brain. Lack of sleep causes the ghrelin levels to go up and the leptin levels to go down resulting in an increase in appetite and decrease in satiety. The more sleep you skip, the more food your body will crave. So, to reduce day time fatigue, control appetite and food cravings get 7-8 hours of quality night sleep.
Learn from setbacks: If you succumb to emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make an alternate plan about how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.
Get support: If you are unable to overcome emotional eating with self help measures, seek professional help. Counsellors and therapists can help you deal with your feelings. Nutritionists can help you identify your eating patterns and get you on track with a better diet while fitness experts can help you get on track with exercise instead of food.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)