Don't Let Emotion Pile on the Pounds
Learning to control overeating in response to emotions could be your key to lasting weight loss.
There's no question that maintaining a healthy weight is hard work. Losing extra pounds is even more difficult.
The key to losing extra pounds is straightforward--consume fewer calories than you need. Yet the process tends to get complicated. Some of the causes are obvious, such as the difficulty of changing ingrained dietary habits, sedentary lifestyles, and unsustainable fad diets. An easier-to-miss problem, however, is eating in response to emotional triggers.
People of any age or gender can be vulnerable to emotional eating. But according to a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion, middleaged women who were distressed emotionally were 43 percent more likely to gain weight than women who weren't distressed. That held true even when their initial weight, food intake, and exercise were taken into account.
Learning strategies to help you understand and counteract emotional eating may be your ticket to better health and a smaller waist.
Causes and Effects
People who eat in response to unsettling emotions have often been conditioned from childhood to reach for "comfort food" when the going gets tough. Certain foods, like ice cream, macaroni and cheese, chocolate, and cookies, raise your blood sugar, so eating them can in fact help you feelbetter for a little while. That makes this a hard habit to break.
Two effects of emotional eating relate directly to weight gain. One is the tendency to turn to treats that are high in fat, sugar, and calories, instead of healthy foods. The second is consuming much more food and many more calories than you need because emotions, not hunger, are the driving force.
Learning some of the differences between eating when you're hungry and eating in response to emotions can help you identify your triggers.
For example: Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by almost any kind of food. Emotional hunger comes on fast and hard, and people often feel they need a specific food to make it go away.
Another good way to determine if you're eating in response to anger, sadness, loneliness, stress, or frustration is to keep a food diary that tracks not only when and what you eat, but how you feel. Analyze your log after a week or so. That will help show you which emotional states lead you to reach for food.
Once you spot a pattern in your eating behavior, you can take steps to deal with the underlying emotionsin ways that don't involve food.Strategies to help you break free of emotional eating include:
- Connecting with friends or family if you eat when you're lonely
- Practicing deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxation techniques if you eat when stressed or anxious
- Seeking help from a therapist if you eat because you could be depressed
- Making a list of 10 things you could do instead of eating when an emotional craving hits. Be imaginative. Include some activities that focus on your emotions and others that simply make you feel "comforted." For example: Change your routine at work, go to another room in your home, read a book, listen to music, take a hot bath, chat online, walk the dog, and so on.
Finally, if you're unable to control emotional eating on your own, seek help from a support group, registered dietitian, or mental health professional.
By Barbara Floria, senior writer for Vitality.
For more information, visit the American
Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org.
© Krames StayWell. Information is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, and exercise should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical advisers. This material may not be reproduced for redistribution without written permission from Krames StayWell.