Have you ever noticed some days you just crave something sweet? Or some days you crave something salty? If you pay close attention to your cravings you will notice the connection between eating and your emotions.

If you’ve ever made room for dessert even though you’re already full or dove into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, you’ve experienced emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.

We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes us feel worse.

The guilt of overeating, or making poor food choices due to our emotions, may allow us to escape from our worries or fears for the moment but when the food is gone our emotions are still with us. If our emotional eating made us overeat celery and carrots, I’m sure there would be very little concern. However most of us go to the cookie jar, the tub of ice cream, or the crunchy potato chips. They move the bad feeling of our emotions into the bad feeling of our food choices, and most often how yucky our body feels afterwards.

Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to breaking free from food cravings and compulsive overeating, and changing the habits that have sabotaged your diets in the past.
Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Keeping a food journal in which you track not only what you eat but how you FEEL before and after you eat is an excellent way to draw attention to your emotional eating patterns. I do this with my clients who tend to overeat or ‘give in’ to their cravings. Awareness is the first step. Once you recognize WHY you’re eating what you are, you are better able to find alternatives to eating which will benefit your health and help you reach your goals.

Make a list of alternative ways to make yourself feel better and put it on your fridge. Try to choose activities that allow you to feel ‘filled up’ – have a bubble bath, go for a walk with a friend, journal, meditate, work out, hug your child. Self-care is vitally important to your well-being. The next time you reach for food to escape your emotions, choose one of the activities on the list and try that out instead of eating. Check in with yourself after you complete the activity and notice whether you still feel like reaching for those cookies or chips.

Once you get a handle on where your food choices are coming from (emotions or actual hunger) you have the opportunity to make different choices that SUPPORT your health and well-being.

Remember – Food for Fuel……..not Food for Feelings.

Do you have some thoughts on emotional eating? Need some assistance? Post your thoughts on our Facebook Page.