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Tips to Beat Emotional Eating and Make More Nutritious Choices

Trying to fix your feelings with food is never healthy.

healthy eating, nutrition, emotional eating

Art Credit: California Bakery

When you’ve got a lot on your mind, sometimes it's easy to start thinking that greasy take-out dinner or a pint of ice cream is just the thing to give you a boost. We’ve all been there! But when you try to fix your feelings by eating, you’re more likely to make less nutritious choices. And while indulging from time-to-time isn't a cause for alarm (at least, most of us aren't trying to go through a breakup on the regular), when your go-to solution to a stressful day or life event involves lots of those things we're better off without, it's time to pause and consider healthier solutions.

Whether it's due to boredom, heartache, or even happy social situations, emotional eating can quickly become a bad habit that can lead to difficulty recognizing real versus emotional hunger, unhealthy weight gain, guilt, or shame. The biggest issue with emotional eating is that your real feelings or problems never truly get addressed or solved. But there are different ways to offset emotion-driven eating. Here are seven tips to beat it, from the mindset to the meal.

01. Identify the Cause.

As with most stressors, the first step is to pinpoint the cause. Emotional eating is exactly what it sounds like–eating triggered by emotions rather than hunger. Think about what makes you beeline for the fridge. Is it anger or stress? Anxiety or boredom? It could well be a combination of any of these. Understanding what jump-starts your cravings will help you limit them and choose the next best steps.

02. Keep a Food Mood Log.

Recording your mood while eating is useful for assessing the relationship between your feelings and food. List everything that you feel, whether it’s good or bad. Eventually, patterns will emerge. You’ll be able to draw links between certain emotions with specific foods or types of food. It also helps to jot down current life events, like applying to jobs or dating someone new. Connecting real-life stressors to what you eat will help you recognize warning signs.

03. Take a Break.

When a craving hits, it consumes the mind. It’s no wonder we find ourselves trying to please it ASAP. But it’s important to remember that cravings aren’t permanent. Take some time to breathe, pause, and relax. Count to 10. De-stressing in the middle of a busy day (even at your desk!) can work wonders towards curbing phantom appetites. Try these simple methods, which are especially useful if you find yourself feeling frazzled and snacking out of anxiety.

04. Occupy Yourself.

The mind is a powerful thing. The next time you find yourself daydreaming about donuts and dumplings, distract yourself. Feeling bored? Read a new book, call a friend, or fold that laundry you’ve been putting off. If you’re feeling anxious, take a moment to lie down. Keep supplies for your favorite hobby in plain sight for the ultimate (healthy) distraction. Shifting your focus will also shift the craving, and might even ease whatever you’re feeling.

05. Get Up and Move.

Aside from a slew of physical benefits, exercise helps reduce anxiety, facilitates relaxation, and controls stress. According to the American Council of Exercise, individuals who regularly work out are also more likely to consume healthier foods. If you don’t know where to start, begin with a basic fitness routine and set small goals. Work up from there, incorporating activities that you truly enjoy. Many of us are guilty of using the “no time” excuse. But think of it this way: Exercise will help you tackle all those responsibilities with a clear, focused mind. Working out will also regulate your sleep cycle, an important factor in maintaining healthy eating habits.

06. Stock Up on Healthy Snacks.

A fool-proof way of limiting unhealthy foods is not having them around to begin with. Make a conscious effort to fill your kitchen with good-for-you snacks. When you only have nutritious options, you’re more likely to exercise mindful eating, or the ability to eat intuitively and really enjoy what you're eating.Take the DIY approach and learn healthier versions of your favorite snacks, like these five easy superfood recipes. Craving something sweet? Toss a frozen banana into a blender for a flavorful dessert that looks just like ice cream, minus the calories. If you’ve got a hankering for chocolate—hello, PMS!—fill raspberries with dark chocolate chips for a healthy snack. Oven-baked kale chips, pesto-filled mushrooms, and roasted chickpeas are wonderful savory alternatives. If you don't know where to start, here’s a secret: Verily's Pinterest is your friend for healthy eats.

07. Drink Tea.

Tea drinkers will be pleased to know that they’re doing good things for their stress levels. A study in Psychopharmacology found that six weeks of daily tea consumption lead to a decrease in cortisol–a hormone that the body releases in response to stress. Cortisol then stimulates inflammation and immune suppression, inducing strained and tired feelings. Another study reported that tea also decreases elevated blood pressure, promotes relaxation, and improves cognitive performance. No wonder tea is called a superfood! It can do amazing things for our well-being. If you find yourself stress-eating, try drinking a cup a day to tame your emotions.

08. Indulge in Moderation.

Treating yourself once in a while isn’t a bad habit. In fact, it can help develop a healthy, balanced approach to food. Banning certain treats not only intensifies the craving, but builds up feelings for a rebellious break in the future. Instead, enjoy a small portion every now and then. This will curb the craving right away, before it has a chance to grow.

Next time you reach for an "I'm stressed out" snack or a "feeling down" donut, reach for these tips instead. You'll have better control over your emotions rather than letting your food cravings have control over you. And you'll be on your way to a healthier, happier you!