Are you an emotional eater? You’re not alone. Almost everyone eats emotionally some of the time. Many of us cope with stress, uncomfortable feelings or not having our needs met by eating. Often we’re not even aware that we’re doing it until we hit the bottom of the carton of ice cream or bag of chips.

Emotional eating is a common problem that can undermine your best intentions to lose weight and love yourself. Unfortunately many women try to control emotional eating by dieting or restricting their food intake, which only makes the problem worse.

Here are 5 steps you can take to  end emotional eating:


Step 1: Become aware of your feelings

Before you reach for food ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? Not sure? Common uncomfortable feelings include: fear, anger, frustration, sadness, disgust, or shame. If none if these descriptions seem to fit, try the description, “uncomfortable”, and see if that resonates with you. When you name feelings you bring them from the more primitive part of your brain to the more evolved cognitive part of your brain where you are able to gain control and think about ways to cope with what you are experiencing.


Step 2: Determine what you need  

Take a moment and ask yourself what do I need right now. If you’re not hungry you don’t need food, you need something else to help you deal with the uncomfortable feelings you discovered in step 1. Ask yourself do I need distraction, support or self-care or am I ready to deal with my feelings?


Step 3: Give yourself what you need

Need distraction? Watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, play with a pet, go shopping or surf the net. Would some loving support help you feel better? Call or text a friend, talk to a family member or meet with a good therapist.

Ready to deal with your feelings? Write in a journal, sit quietly with your feelings or talk with a therapist. It’s also helpful to reframe your thoughts by viewing the situation causing uncomfortable feelings in a different way. Perhaps you need some self-care. If that’s the case rest, take a nap, go for a walk, soak in the tub, take yourself out on a date, or get a massage.

Determining what you need is at the heart of conquering emotional eating and practicing self-compassion. So keep an ongoing list of ways you like to care for yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. Then you’ll be ready to give yourself what you need the next time you feel like eating emotionally.


Step 4: Eat

When it comes to emotional eating hunger can be a major trigger, so don’t let it get out of control. Eat every 3 or 4 hours preferably a meal or snack that contains a source of lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, and a fruit or vegetable. Think apple slices with a little peanut butter; hummus, whole grain crackers and carrot sticks; or a turkey sandwich with a small salad and piece of fruit.


Step 5: HALT

Pause before you eat anything and remember the acronym HALT. When you’re low or upset and feel like you want to eat, STOP and consider which of the issues below you are experiencing. Then take action to bring yourself back into balance.


HUNGER: Hunger isn’t just a feeling that you want to eat. It’s your body’s biological signal that you need food. When you’re hungry you may feel tired, weak or foggy. Your stomach may growl or feel empty and you generally care less about what you eat and more about just getting food. Your body is trying to get your attention, so EAT and give it what it needs. You’ll feel better.

Not sure if you are hungry or simply experiencing a craving? Set a timer for 20 minutes, drink a large glass of water and do something that doesn’t involve food. After 20 minutes check in and see if you are still feeling hungry.


ANGERY/ANXIOUS: While as women we’re often taught not to get angry, anger is a valid, important emotion (like all your emotions). Instead of eating your anger (it won’t make anger go away), allow yourself to feel it. Then use your intuition to determine your best course of action. You may want to address what’s making you angry, talk to someone about your feelings or exert some physical energy to feel better.

Anxiety is a common problem for women particularly at midlife. It involves worrying about the future and can be difficult to turn off. You can learn how to manage anxiety. For 5 Techniques to Transform Anxiety into Peace of Mind click HERE.


LONELY: Loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone. It can signal a need to connect with others or look deeper within to discover your self-worth. Try talking to someone or taking time to address your spiritual needs.


TIRED: Many of us feel tired during the day because we’re stressed and/or not getting enough sleep. Feeling fatigued is a signal that your body needs rest so take a break or a brisk walk in fresh air to feel better. Consider what you need to do to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.


The next time you’re feeling depressed, stressed or out of control, HALT. Take a few deep breaths to calm down. Consider your feelings and how your energy levels are in respect to Hunger, Anger, Loneliness and Tiredness.


Need help with emotional eating? Click HERE to schedule a complimentary coaching session. I’ve been a registered dietitian nutritionist for 25 years and would love to help you.


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