5 ways to tackle emotional eating

Dr Ben Kelly Head of Preventative Medicine Ben Kelly is a specialist in preventative medicine and leads the clinical research and digital health agendas for Nuffield Health. More by this author
Healthy snacking can be a good way to keep your energy up, but comfort eating can have negative effects on your physical and emotional wellbeing.

When you’re upset, under stress, or simply just bored, it’s very easy to turn to food. These five tips will take you through how to identify, manage and outsmart emotional eating:

Identify emotional eating

The next time you reach for a sugary snack or a packet of crisps, stop. Ask yourself, ‘Am I really hungry?’ Wait for 20 minutes and see how you feel. Are you bored, sad, stressed, or upset? You may find it useful to keep a food diary, jotting down not only what you eat, but how you feel beforehand. If you are snacking in response to negative feelings, it’s likely that you’re eating emotionally.

Get to the root of the matter

If you have identified the feelings, the next step is to work out what causes them. Has a particular event upset you, making you reach for chocolate? Do you feel lonely in the evenings and snack to fill the time? Perhaps a big meeting coming up is making you anxious, driving you to the biscuit tin? Sometimes, simply finding the cause of your feelings can prevent you from acting without thinking.

Make a positive change

If you know the root cause (or causes) of your emotional eating, you can take positive steps to break the cycle. Some triggers can be avoided by tweaking your lifestyle and planning ahead:

  • Feeling lonely? Join a club, call a friend, take up a new hobby, or use the time to tackle a DIY project
  • Busy or stressful time coming up? Make time to go for walks, stay energised by going to the gym, or carry a stress ball with you for instant relief
  • Upsetting event? Reach out to friends and family for support, talk it over, make plans for something exciting in the future.

Making little changes can have a big effect, so actively seek out the activities, people and places that make you feel positive and happy.

Out of sight, out of mind, all in hand

When temptation is within reach, it’s hard to resist. Response to a negative feeling is quickly changed into a positive activity:

  • Keep snacks out of sight in a cupboard or drawer
  • Put post-it notes on the packet saying, ‘Are you hungry? No? Do five star jumps or call a friend instead of eating me'
  • Don’t buy foods you don’t want to be snacking on. Instead, choose healthy alternatives
  • Switch crisps for carrots if you’re craving a crunch, fill your fruit bowl with tempting fruit to satisfy a sweet tooth, or find something that will occupy your hands like knitting or writing a blog.

Talk to someone

It’s not always easy to tackle emotional eating on your own. Telling your friends, family or even colleagues that you’re trying to cut down on snacks could help support you as you take control of your feelings. In certain cases, however, you may benefit from speaking to a nutrition or emotional wellbeing professional.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

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