Wellbeing

5 Ways to Take Charge of Emotional Eating

No matter how often you’ve used food to soothe feelings, you can break the emotional eating cycle. Here’s how.

1. Figure out what you’re feeling

First, determine if your desire to eat is true hunger or something else. Is your stomach growling? If not, drill down deeper to identify the trigger (the sight and smell of food can elicit an emotional response, too). “If you name it, you can tame it,” Friedland advises. “If you’re feeling anxious and tense, just saying out loud ‘anxious, anxious, nervous, nervous’ is powerful.”

2. Practice putting space between thoughts and actions

When you delay cruising by the office snack table in response to a tense run-in with a co-worker, you give yourself the freedom to make a different choice. But it takes practice. The next time you feel anxious, Forman suggests challenging yourself to see how long you can embrace the emotion. “See if you can welcome it for two minutes,” he says. Try saying “I know what this is and I can handle it,” instead of saying, “A muffin would make me feel better.”

3. Take a long, slow inhale

Deep breathing may be one of the most effective strategies you can adopt to help lessen the intensity of strong emotions, says Abby Braden, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “When you’re anxious, your breath quickens. But breathing into your diaphragm may reduce levels of tension and stress. It helps take the edge off that negative feeling, lets you reframe how you’re thinking about it, and helps you get through that moment without eating.”

4. Mind your thoughts

Thinking “I really want a cupcake” might feel like your free will has been hijacked. But what is a thought, really? A fleeting experience that has no real power over you. “A craving is just words or activity in the brain,” Forman says. “You’re imagining how good something will taste. Similarly, if you break down what it means to be sad or mad or ashamed into component parts, you’ll realize it’s merely feeling anxious or having your muscles tense up or your breathing speed up.”

5. Keep some distance

Another trick: Don’t identify with the thoughts directly, so you have some distance to make a good decision. “It’s the difference between ‘I’m angry’ versus ‘I notice that I’m having angry thoughts,’” Friedland adds. “That way you’re not swept away by what you normally do when you’re angry. If you can mindfully notice those angry feelings, you put yourself into that gap where you can notice and choose .”