Raise your hand if you’ve ever
found yourself halfway through a bag of quinoa chips before asking yourself, “Wait, am I just eating because I’m bored?” Or sad. Or anxious. Or fill in any other emotion here.
You’re definitely not alone. “As humans, eating is linked to so many emotions,” says dietician Lauren Fowler, a specialist in mindful eating. “Many people turn to food as a way to cope with emotions when they don’t know how to express them.”
Emotional eating may be totally common, but it’s unhealthy for two major reasons, says Karen Koenig, a licensed clinical social worker. First, using food as a way to cope with the stress of prepping for a big presentation at work or dealing with a breakup means that we’re not learning real ways to deal with those feelings. Taking a meditation break or squeezing in a sweat session are much better ways to cope. Putting food on top of your feelings is like taking a short cut. “Secondly, we also habituate to a pattern of ingesting unhealthy foods and taking in more than our body needs for nourishment,” says Koenig. In short, you’re avoiding your real emotional issues and gaining weight. Fun, right?
So how do you stop all the mindless munching? “Oftentimes emotional eaters have no sense of when they’re hungry for full,” says Dr. Danielle Shelov, a clinical psychologist who specialises in eating issues. “The best way to stop feeding our feelings is to let ourselves feel them.”
The key is to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending you. Before reaching for a handful of snacks, check in with your tummy. Are you actually hungry or are you really getting an emotional cue from your body?
Another trick is to set a goal to only eat three meals and two snacks for the next three days, says Shelov. “Then see what happens in the moments you would normally graze or go back for more food.”
And when you feel the urge to start emotionally eating, jot down the feelings that are sending you to the fridge. “This way you are not eating aimlessly—it is thoughtful and measured.”
The bottom line: Check in with yourself and feed your feelings with more mindfulness—not munchies.