Using food to celebrate good news or to comfort yourself when you feel down is not uncommon. The problem arises when these emotional triggers begin to drive cravings that lead to overeating. If you struggle to control emotional eating, try following these tips.
The first step to controlling emotional eating is to recognize the triggers. When you feel cravings coming on, stop for a minute and assess your situation. What are you feeling? Happy, sad, or stressed? Did something occur before you got hungry, such as a stressful work meeting or an argument with a loved one?
Recognize true hunger
Once you recognize the cause of your food craving, assess your hunger level. How long has it been since you ate? Is your stomach grumbling? True hunger usually occurs about four hours after a healthy, balanced meal or snack. If you are truly hungry, eat something. Choose a meal or snack that is balanced in protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. If you simply cannot put off your craving for a sugar-filled treat, limit it to a few bites. The goal isn’t to deprive yourself. It’s to slow down and stay in control of your food choices, which can save you from downing a whole bag of chips or a box of cookies. Often just a taste will satisfy a craving and it will save you from overdoing it on calories.
If you identify that your hunger and cravings are directly connected to an emotional trigger, the best course of action is to distract yourself. Respond to the email in your inbox, run an errand, or take a 10-minute walk. If you can get your mind off of the situation that created the craving, even for a few minutes, you can often bypass the urge to overeat.
Find healthy substitutes to satisfy cravings
If you can’t seem to kick the cravings caused by emotional triggers, create a healthy list of substitutes that you can keep on hand. Do you crave salty foods when you are stressed? Try lightly salted, air-popped popcorn. Need a sweet treat when you feel like celebrating? Have one square of dark chocolate or make a natural frozen yogurt. Vegetables with hummus are great for crunchy food cravings, or try a slow cooked oatmeal for something rich and creamy.