How To Overcome Emotional Eating

by Kathy Smith

Is emotional eating your enemy, especially at night? Does the gloomy winter weather sap your motivation, just leaving you wanting to watch TV on a comfy couch and overeat junk food? 

Sometimes when you have had a stressful or exhausting day, you arrive home, and in attempt to lift your spirits, you head to the kitchen for the sugary treats and crunchy chips. Sound familiar? Eating isn’t always about hunger. Mood eating is one of the most overwhelming issues for any weight-conscious person. Today, I’ll show you 6 simple steps for how to overcome emotional eating.

We often turn to comfort foods for reasons other than fuel, and distinguishing the physical need from the emotional need—especially in the heat of the moment—can be one of the hardest things to do. Boredom, loneliness, anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue are all controlling emotions. The key is to strike a balance between knowing what you eat and understanding how you feel.

Emotional Overeating Tip #1: Leave Out The Last Few Bites

When you’re eating a meal, choose to eat only part of the food on your plate. Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, pretend that the last few or several bites aren’t there at all. Give yourself ten minutes or so to let what food you’ve eaten settle, then ask yourself if you’re satisfied yet and whether you actually want the remaining portion.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that the stomach’s signal to the brain indicating that its’ full lags several minutes behind swallowing. So if you are indeed satisfied, then you’ve learned a valuable lesson: your body didn’t need as much as you thought, so now it doesn’t have to store those excess calories as fat.

Emotional Overeating Tip #1: Identify What You’re Feeling

This is when keeping a journal becomes critical. I have led many groups through weight loss programs, and I account much of their success to their dedication in keeping food-mood entries. Everyone recorded how they felt before and after they ate. Take time to write about the following points:

  • What do you feel the moment you sense that you want to head to the kitchen for some out-of-control eating? Are you tired, lonely, bored, upset? Which emotion is taking over?
  • Does the emotion above emotion connect with a particular food or need for a particular taste sensation?
  • Are you truly hungry or just looking for a way to deal with the emotion?
  • How is life affecting your eating habits?
  • When in the past have you veered off track and responded to being angry, lonely, bored, or tired with food?

Answering the questions above will help you come to a better understanding of your personal connection between mood and food. As you continue to fill your journal, you will gain self-awareness to help you make better decisions when the same mood pattern repeats.

Emotional Eating Tip #3: Reach For Protein

If you’re encountering late-night hunger, first take a look at what you’re eating for dinner and throughout the day, and make sure you’re eating enough to feel balanced and satisfied. If you’ve been eating satisfying and balanced meals, but you’re still hungry, it’s always best to reach for some protein. A few almonds or slices of lean beef or chicken are good choices. If that’s not enough, add a vegetable to the protein.

If you’re wanting something sweet, try indulging in 2 small squares of dark chocolate (about 75 calories). Another go-to evening treat for me is strawberries or raspberries with a dollop of yogurt and some shaved chocolate on top. Be sure to put it in an attractive dish, then sit down and enjoy!

Emotional Eating Tip #4: Relax!

Relax! Isn’t that what the evening is all about anyway? Ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, or if you’re just looking for something comforting to help you wind down. Remember, “Downtime” doesn’t always mean “Chowtime.” A hot bath, good book, and cup of chamomile tea might just do the trick.

Emotional Eating Tip #5: Snack Wisely!

When you eat is as important as what you eat, especially when it comes to avoiding emotional eating. In order to balance blood sugar levels, it’s important to stay on schedule, eating a small 400-calorie meal or 200-calorie snack every 3 to 4 hours. Do this consistently, and you’ll experience fewer hunger pangs, steadier blood sugar and energy levels, and you’ll be less tempted to emotionally eat, thus improving your chances of success. Choose snacks that make you feel satisfied emotionally, but also help balance your blood sugar levels. When you’re emotionally charged, having too much sugar puts you on the blood sugar roller-coaster, and triggers more cravings. So choose snacks that have a good source of protein and fiber, such as:

  • Small Apple Crisp protein shake If you’re not in the area, blend together 1 apple, 1/2 C. spinach, 2 Tbsp almond butter, 1 serving vanilla whey protein, 8 oz unsweetened almond milk, a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of cinnamon!
  • 1/2 C. plain icelandic or greek yogurt with 1/4 C. fresh berries and 1 Tbsp. walnuts
  • 3/4 C. cooked shelled edamame
  • Wrap 4 steamed asparagus spears with 4 oz lean beef or chicken
  • Cucumber boat with tuna and cranberries



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