Emotional eating: When what's eating at you makes you overeat

Couple dining together

Do you sometimes come home from a hard day at work and head straight for the ice cream? Have you ever been bored and found yourself snacking on potato chips without even thinking about it until the bag was empty? When those reasons involve stress, sadness, boredom, conflicts or fatigue, it's called emotional eating.

Emotional eating can wreck a healthy diet or a weight-loss plan. Your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that, without even thinking about it, you may reach for a sweet treat when you're sad, angry or stressed. Or, you may use food to take your mind off a problem.

The good news is that you can take control of emotional eating. And here are seven tips that can help.

  • Keep a food diary - By writing down what you eat, how much you eat and what your feelings are at the time, you may begin to see patterns that can help you understand what triggers you to eat for emotional reasons
  • Ask yourself if you're really hungry - When you're tempted to eat between meals or to keep eating after a meal is over, take the time to think about whether or not you're actually hungry. If you're not, do something else until the craving passes.
  • When you’re thinking about eating out of boredom, do something else instead. Take a walk, work a puzzle, call a friend, fold the laundry or read a magazine. A list of activities that take your mind off eating may come in handy.
  • Don't leave leftovers sitting around - If you are often tempted to keep snacking or to go back for seconds even after you're full, wrap up the leftovers and put them away before you sit down to eat in the first place.
  • Take away temptation - Don't keep comfort foods in your home if they're too hard to resist. And if you feel angry or blue, put off that trip to the grocery until you have your feelings in check.
  • Pay attention to your food - When you do eat, don't wolf your food down. Eat slowly. Sit at the table and enjoy it rather than eating out of the refrigerator or while watching TV. You may be more likely to notice when you're full if you're not thinking about something else.
  • Get enough sleep - If you're tired, you might snack to try to give yourself an energy boost. Take a nap or go to bed earlier instead.

If these tips don't give you the help you need, talk to your doctor about counseling or other options to help you deal with emotional issues. It may help you understand the reasons behind your emotional eating and offer you new skills to deal with it.

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