As many of you know, it isn't always hunger that causes you to reach for your favorite foods. Our moods and emotions can play a big role in how we view food and in how well we are able to stick to a healthy eating plan.
Depression, loneliness, or simply being exhausted by a hectic daily schedule or too many responsibilities can set off emotional eating. Many people eat to fill a void or use food to keep themselves company. Some look to food as a distraction from a traumatic experience, such as the loss of a job, a death, or a breakup. Still others tend to overeat or go for junk food when they are happy. But most who succumb to emotional eating find that it can't be traced to one specific cause — it's simply a well-established pattern to fall back on food when needing comfort or deciding to celebrate.
The good news is that you don’t have to fall into this behavioral trap. There are better ways to deal with emotions, and it's much healthier to face up to your feelings than to bury them under a mountain of food. Furthermore, finding a more positive way to respond to your emotions will help you have a plan of action when your triggers arise.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, here are some helpful ways to prevent your emotions from getting in the way of your weight-loss goals:
Write in a journal. Keeping a food journal not only helps you keep tabs on what you’re eating but also on how you’re feeling at the time. Knowing what your eating triggers are will keep you on track. To break bad habits, you should record not only what and when you ate, but also the emotional circumstances that prompted you to overindulge and make unhealthy choices.
Keep yourself distracted. Instead of focusing on your emotions (and food), engross yourself in a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, or better yet, hit the gym or head outdoors and get some exercise.
Have healthy snacks at the ready. There are probably times when your emotional triggers kick in and you react by grabbing the nearest bag of chips, an ice cream cone, or more than a few cookies. While we don’t recommend food as comfort, we all do it, so make sure what you put in your mouth is healthy. Stock up on nutritious, satisfying foods like a handful of almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or soy nuts; an apple with 1 or 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter; some reduced-fat cheese with whole-wheat crackers; or some hummus or another bean-based dip with veggie sticks. Then make sure they’re handy in your cupboards, fridge, desk drawer, or backpack for those times when emotions get the best of you (your journal will help you keep track of what those moments are). And remember, our protein- and fiber-rich South Beach Diet 100-Calorie Snack, Protein Fit Cereal, or Fiber Granola Bars are always excellent choices under any circumstances.
- Reevaluate your emotions. Before you grab any food in an emotional moment, take a moment to think, “Is this going to make me feel any better?” Oftentimes, you just need to step back and have that moment of clarity.