Emotional eating is a coping mechanism that’s used to fill an emotional void. It’s not necessarily an indication of obesity, but overeating can lead to it, and being overweight can cause stress that can lead to emotional eating, so in this way, they’re actually related. Since emotional eating is a normal part of human nature, it’s important to understand and control these feelings, even if you don’t have weight issues.
When we eat for emotional reasons, the body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are natural opiates that come from the pituitary gland and work as a pain reliever or mood enhancer (similar to narcotics such as morphine). They are released when the body goes into “fight or flight” mode by releasing adrenaline; when we feel extreme emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, or sadness; or when we exercise (which stimulates muscle contractions).
Emotional eating is usually associated with comfort foods that make us feel good when we eat them—they remind us of happier times or provide some sort of satisfaction that we can’t get anywhere else. It may be a specific food or type of food—things like ice cream, chocolate cake, pizza, potato chips, tacos, and other fast food items are common go-to’s.
How to control emotional eating?
Eat a healthy breakfast every day instead of skipping meals or making unhealthy choices. Breakfast will help stabilize your blood sugar levels and give you energy for the day ahead. Healthy options include whole-grain cereal with skim milk, whole-wheat toast with jam or peanut butter, fruit salad, yogurt, and fresh fruit smoothies. You could also prepare a healthy breakfast the night before to avoid last-minute bad decisions.
Pack a lunch! Brown-bag or takeout options can tip the scales toward overeating, but making your own meal at home gives you more control over portion size. Keep yourself healthy by taking along snacks like fruit or veggies rather than chips or candy bars. If you’ve got a particularly busy afternoon ahead of you, consider setting aside an hour to cook yourself an early dinner so that you aren’t starving by dinnertime.
Know your schedule
The first step to getting your eating habits under control is to look at your schedule and decide how much time you’ll have for eating each day. You might not realize it, but what and when you eat are affected by your daily schedule. When you know what time you’ll be having breakfast and dinner, you can plan around the time of day when you tend to get hungry.
Keep a food journal
By keeping a food journal, you can learn more about your eating habits than just what you ate during the last week or so. You’ll also notice whether there are any patterns between the way you eat now and the way you ate in the past; if not, this might be your chance to create new habits—like always eating breakfast or always snacking on fresh fruit instead of chocolate bars.
Don’t rush it, enjoy your meals
By setting aside time for each meal, you’ll be able to plan out your meals for each day—and even for each week if that works better for you. This will allow you to make sure that you’re eating enough calories from a wide variety of foods, so that no single food group dominates the meals on your plate. You may find that by planning out what’s going into each meal, it’s easier to stick with healthy options and avoid junk food in between meals.
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