Whether reaching for extra snacks is pandemic-related, a case of the Sunday scaries, or something else entirely, emotional eating (also known as stress eating) is often a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult situations. While “eating your feelings” may provide temporary relief in the moment, emotional eating can have long-term effects that’ll make you feel worse, such as health issues and weight gain. Learn to control the cycle and how to avoid stress eating by recognizing causes and triggers with the following tips.
1. Understand the Causes
Stay in tune with your body and your feelings by keeping a food diary. By writing down what, when, and how much you eat throughout the day—as well as how you’re feeling at the time—can help you identify the patterns, triggers, and motivations of your emotional eating. It might be something as simple as a bad day at work or boredom. Or it could be a bigger issue that may require professional help, like depression or grief. Make sure to also ask yourself “Why am I eating? How do I feel?” and make a note of your answer in your food journal. It’s totally okay if your answer is “Because I’m hungry!” But if it’s something else, pay attention.
2. Create a Distraction
Emotional eating is often a distraction itself, but once you’ve pinpointed what’s causing you to stress eat, you can create a distraction from the distraction by doing something productive instead. Try going outside or get moving. A short walk, listening to a podcast or your favorite music, chatting with a good friend, having a cup of tea on your porch, or doing something new like a yoga class may be enough to lift your spirits and change your habits. In addition to exercise, healthy habits like good sleep and proper nutrition are also great long-term stress relievers. Most importantly, remember that it’s normal to have an occasional bout of stress eating, so don’t beat yourself up over the occasional indulgence.
3. Swap Your Snacks
It’s easy to overindulge if you are surrounded by hard-to-resist, unhealthy foods that ultimately make you feel worse. Simply removing the temptation may help you to stop stress eating. Not to mention, overeating processed foods can raise your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leaving you with the eventual sugar crash as well as other negative effects on your long-term mental and physical health.
Keeping your pantry stocked with nutritious alternatives (think foods high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats) will not only help fill you up, but will help prevent mindlessly reaching for junk food when cravings or other emotional eating triggers hit. Swap chips and salty snacks for lightly salted popcorn, which has more whole grains, or these Spicy Crispy Chickpeas if you’re craving something crunchy. Reach for fruits or dark chocolate (at least 72% cacao) instead of processed sweets, or try one of these Atkins®-approved low carb dessert recipes. And, whether you’re making the occasional swap or following a flexible, nutrition-focused plan like Atkins, you may find that, over time, you don’t even miss those processed snacks!
However you snack, make sure to also practice portion control. It’s much easier to avoid emotional eating if you don’t have an entire container of cookies at your fingertips, so dole out the recommended serving size onto a plate or bowl instead of eating straight from the bag or box. Something as simple as pre-portioning your snacks into “emergency” snack packages may help you to stop eating so much.
4. Ask for Help
If the above tips aren’t working to help stop your stress eating, you’ve identified chronic causes of your emotional eating beyond your control, or you experience feelings of guilt and shame after overeating, you may benefit from professional help and/or a support group. Your friends and family may also be a great support network. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Being aware of the problem and identifying the cause of your emotional eating are the best ways to stop stress eating.
For more community support, healthy lifestyle tips, and low carb recipes, get started with Atkins today!