It’s no secret that our emotions impact what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat.
In fact, sometimes it seems that the strongest cravings hit when our emotional and mental
wellbeing is at its weakest. Emotional eating is a way to, in the short term, relieve or suppress
negative feelings, such as sadness, stress, anger/frustration, and/or boredom. However,
emotional eating can also lead us to make poor food choices, such as skipping or forgetting meals, consuming fast food frequently or consuming alcohol and/or caffeine in excess, all which may have health consequences, including unintentional weight gain. To help prevent emotional eating, focus on the following steps:
Identify the difference between emotional hunger and physiological hunger.
- Emotional hunger typically comes on suddenly with an urge to resolve the
“hunger quickly”, often involves a desire for a specific type of food or food group,
and usually results in overeating. In contrast, physiological hunger tends to be
more gradual, allows us to stop eating when we are full, and doesn’t typically
cause guilt that is experienced with emotional hunger.
Establish a healthy eating routine.
- Aim to eat two to three well rounded meals each day. Meals don’t have to be
complicated: the easier and quicker = the better. Try pairing a protein source
(chicken, salmon, ground turkey or lean beef, etc.) with various grilled, roasted, or
steamed vegetables and seasonings/sauces of your choice for a quick,
inexpensive and easy meal!
- Ensure you’re consuming enough of the right foods. Consume plenty of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products while limiting
your intake of highly processed foods, added sugars, salt/sodium, and alcohol.
- Talk with a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating routine that meets your
individualized needs while helping to manage causes and symptoms of emotional
Manage overall stress.
- There is evidence to suggest that increased cortisol, the hormone released
during stress, may result in an increased appetite, leading to overeating and
potential weight gain. Rather than turning to food for comfort, be sure to control
stress by journaling, exercise, practicing mindfulness/meditation, and/or social support.