How to Cope with Emotional Eating
This holiday season, millions of Americans will turn to food for comfort. Weight gain and unhealthy eating are almost a given this time of year, as food and feelings are closely linked – we call this emotional eating.
These quick tips from RD and Head of Nutrition at Lumen Ulrike Kuehl can help us understand the root cause of emotional eating and what we can do to avoid it while paying attention to our metabolism.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is when we use food to cope with our feelings, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. It’s usually associated with negative emotions such as;
- Anxiety & depression
We emotionally eat to cope with feelings of stress and discomfort, but science can tell us why emotional eating becomes a habit. When we eat food we enjoy, it releases a rush of dopamine, a hormone that affects the reward and pleasure centers of the brain.
How it impacts our metabolism
Our metabolism can improve or deteriorate based on what we eat and how much we eat. Emotional eating typically leads to overeating , pushing our body into a caloric surplus. Weight gain is a typical consequence of overeating but it’s not only about caloric intake, it’s about our body’s ability to process what we eat and how it might do this efficiently.
Overloading your metabolism means that your body is likely to burn more carbs as a fuel source rather than used stored fat. Add the stress component which accompanies overeating and your body will have a harder time switching between fats and carbs, which is important to have an efficient metabolism.
When you eat is also important, and we know that eating late can disrupt your natural window of time to burn through carb stores overnight also known as fasting.
How to prevent emotional eating
Become aware of your triggers
If you can recognize your triggers, you can start to put strategies in place to deal with emotional eating. A good idea is to write down how you feel when you get the urge to eat during an emotional situation so you can identify patterns.
Separate hunger cues from emotional cues
Stop and take a moment to ask yourself “Am I really physically hungry?”. You can also use a hunger scale to rate your level of hunger. It is a simple scale of 1-10, with 1 being starving and 10 being extremely full.
Create a regular meal schedule
Stick to fixed meal times (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), which will help regulate your physical hunger and control the desire to overeat.
Find other distractions
Establish coping mechanisms outside of food, such as going for a leisurely walk or chatting to a friend on the phone – whatever will lift your spirits.
True self-care isn’t just bubble baths and manicures, it’s about developing tools to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Think yoga, Qigong, mindfulness meditation, and more.
The good news is, you can curb emotional eating gradually by making these small changes without overloading your metabolism which today can be measured and tracked before and after you eat or exercise by innovative technology such as Lumen. This holiday season, you can easily avoid overeating just by focusing on your health and what your body actually needs to thrive.
Frayn M, Livshits S, Knäuper B. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. J Eat Disord. 2018;6:23. Published 2018 Sep 14. doi:10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6.