Emotional eating is also often referred to as stress eating — that’s likely because stress is so often a trigger for this habit.
But stress isn’t the only reason people turn to emotional eating: You may opt to nosh because you’ve had a bad day or are feeling blue, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other triggers are financial woes, relationship problems, health issues or fatigue, notes the Mayo Clinic.
How Can You Tell if It’s Emotions Making You Eat?
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
Some signs it’s emotions driving your hunger include feeling guilty about eating, cravings, the suddenness of the urge to eat and not feeling full even after eating a lot, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Why Emotional Eating Is a Problem
First things first: Eating won’t typically make you feel better — that is, you won’t feel less stressed or blue or perk up about your day after eating. In fact, often people feel guilt or shame or other negative emotions.
Plus, it can have physical effects, according to Houston Methodist, including:
• Depleted energy levels
And, of course, if you’re working to lose weight or maintain your weight, emotional eating will get in the way of your goal.
TK Strategies to Nix Emotional Eating
Try these tactics to make sure you’re eating when you’re physically hungry — and not due to emotions.
1. Know your trigger.
Self-knowledge can be helpful. If you know a bad day makes you inclined to eat candy, you’ll be prepared, which can help you make another move, like calling a friend to vent. Keeping a food diary can help you identify what makes you likely to turn to food for comfort.
2. Ask yourself questions.
Before you eat, try a “hunger reality check,” recommends the Mayo Clinic. By thinking through the last time you ate, and seeing if your hunger is related to emotional or physical needs, you may be able to prevent yourself from emotional eating.
3. Do something different.
It takes awhile to change a habit. In the meantime, look for other alternatives to food in moments when you crave it for emotional reasons. That might involve a five-minute dance party or sitting outside, suggests Harvard Health Publishing.
4. Make healthy eating choices.
Try popcorn instead of potato chips, or have some candy, not a bagful, recommends the Cleveland Clinic. Another smart trick: Don’t bring unhealthy food inside your home, per the Mayo Clinic — if it’s not there, you can’t eat it.
5. Seek alternate coping strategies.
Try identifying the root cause of your emotional eating (stress, loneliness, etc.) and then looking for a solution that matches that emotional need, suggests Houston Methodist. For instance, exercise and breathing exercises can be helpful tactics to quell stress, while calling a friend or volunteering might limit loneliness.
6. Look for support.
Turn to friends and family, or a support group, suggests the Mayo Clinic. A mental health professional can also be beneficial.