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Do you find comfort in food? The truth is food is more than a source of nourishment for us. From the day we are born, we don’t only feed to fulfil physical hunger but also to fill an emotional need. So yes, it is normal to experience a positive effect on your mood after eating certain foods you love. However, many of us struggle with weight gain due to relying on food to soothe negative emotions too often. Let’s have a look at some ways to kick the habit.

Where does it stem from?

Associating food with comfort has been entrenched in us from an early age. I remember reaching for a bag of salty potato crisps after returning home from high school. I would plop myself in front of the TV and find an immense sense of comfort. When I got older, I realised that that bag of crisps was more than enjoyment of food. It was soothing the overwhelming emotions I felt starting a new school. The truth is this habit continued into adulthood, and only when I recognised the pattern was I able to stop progressively.

We all experience a certain degree of stress; however, some experience more than others. Whether from work or relationships, the coping mechanisms we all have are different. Something needs to be done if you are reaching for food to soothe those negative emotions several times a week, resulting in food guilt and weight gain.

“A short-term fix occasionally to satisfy an emotion is good and well. But when it is daily and leading to excessive calorie intake, and you can’t stop, it is most likely chronic, and you need more help.”

What about cravings and binge eating?

The truth is that emotional eating is attached to fulfilling an emotion, providing a positive reward to yourself to improve a negative feeling. In contrast, cravings tend to be related to poor eating habits and spikes in hormones. The three often go hand in hand, and what starts as a craving can lead to a binge and then emotional guilt, which leads to a vicious cycle many get stuck in.

Solving Emotional Eating

Step one to managing emotional eating is recognition. Without realising the pattern and its adverse effects on you, you will not be able to move on to step two. Being able to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger is essential. Typically, the foods we crave to satisfy emotional needs are energy-dense (high in sugar and fat), as these light up the pleasure centres of our brain.

Physical hunger usually comes on gradually, leaves you desiring a variety of food groups, allows you to stop when you complete and is associated with no negative feelings around eating. On the other hand, emotional eating involves sudden cravings for certain foods, can result in binging, doesn’t often lead to a sense of fullness, and is associated with guilt or shame about eating.

Step two is being aware of the emotion you are feeling at that moment and then practising an alternative method to soothe your negative emotions besides food. Don’t get me wrong, food can still play a role in relieving your feelings, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox.

Let’s look at some alternative activities you could consider instead of food to soothe your emotions. Remember, whichever exercise you choose from this list needs to be something you enjoy, and that indeed provides you with the same soothing effect the bag of crisps offered me.

  1. Create a list of things that make you feel better that are not food. Here are some examples
    • Call your best friend and talk your feelings out
    • Turn up the music and have a dance
    • Run a hot bath and enjoy a relaxing soak
    • Go for a walk in nature

2. Think about if you are eating enough during the day so that when you get home from work, the hunger doesn’t strike so hard

    • Eat a Satisfying Lunch
    • Have a snack just before you leave the office

3. Create a snack section in your pantry that will nourish and satisfy foods and move energy-dense foods out of eyesight. Don’t stock any “junk” foods in your pantry if you feel you need to.

4. Try not to beat yourself up about it. Guilt can lead you to spiral back into those negative emotions.

5. Enlist some help. Having an accountability partner can be a great way to support you through the initial change. Positive words of encouragement go a long way.

If you have a setback, try to look at it as a learning experience. Forgive yourself and try the next time again.

If you still feel like you need some more help, do reach out to us and apply to work with us, we will hold your hand through the process.

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