How to overcome emotional eating

Kasandra Kucharcyzk (TheLorian)

Disordered eating is a common but troubled way that many young adults cope with the stress and hardships that naturally come with trying to balance taking care of yourself, maintain a healthy social support system, and keep up with school and/or work. Signs of disordered eating can include, but are not limited to, frequent meal skipping or intense dieting, feelings of guilt or shame surrounding eating, overeating/binge eating, and other habits associated with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Emotional eating is a common form of disordered eating that is triggered by stress or other intense emotions. Eating is often a way that people try to suppress or soothe negative feelings, and people can often see eating as the one thing they can control when other aspects of their life are seemingly out of their control. Comfort is often found in food for many people and therefore it is easy to resort to overeating. Unfortunately, as a result of overeating, individuals may find themselves feeling ashamed of their overeating habits which leads into a disordered eating cycle surrounding the conglomeration of negative emotions they are experiencing. Luckily there are ways to disrupt the emotional eating cycle and used in partnership with each other, these techniques can help lead you to healthier eating habits.

You could begin by keeping an emotional eating diary that includes what triggers cause your cravings, such as specific stressful events that occur, what kind of food cravings arise, what you ate, and how you felt during and after eating. Recording this mood/eating journal could help you notice patterns in your emotional eating cycle and can lead you to finding healthier ways to cope. Next time you notice a possible trigger maybe try these alternatives to emotional eating:

  1. Call/Text a friend or a loved one. Reaching out to someone you trust and feel comfortable with can be a great way to distract yourself or talk through negative triggers.
  2. Go for a walk or try some light exercise. This trick is a good way to decipher whether your craving is coming from a place of physical or emotional hunger. If you’re still feeling hungry after then it’s most likely physical hunger and you can proceed with a meal or snack, if your cravings dissipate after exercising it was most likely linked to an emotional trigger and you have successfully combated an emotional eating situation.
  3. Try distracting yourself with a hobby or activity that you enjoy, this could be things like reading a book, drawing/painting, playing an instrument, etc. Distraction is a great way to combat cravings and hobbies are a great way to relieve stress and other negative emotions.

If you are struggling with a form of disordered eating below are some great resources that discuss common causes and symptoms, ways to overcome disordered eating, programs you can reach out to for help, and other helpful information.

Loras College Counseling Services: Tricia S. Borelli, Italee Castellon

Life Without ED by Jenni Schaefer

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