Weight Management: Emotional or Stress Eating
How do you deal with feelings of anger, frustration, conflict, and stress? How do you deal with feelings of loneliness, depression, or disappointment? Do you find comfort in food?
When you have these feelings, eating something sweet or salty can give a rapid sense of relief. Food is not hard to find and is an easy way to deal with emotions as well as an easy way to deal with stress. Experts believe about 75% of overeating is caused by feelings, not hunger. This means that many of us use food to cope with our feelings.
To find out why you really eat, you have to ask questions. It’s almost impossible to stop emotional or stress eating if you don’t understand the purpose food is serving in your life. Have you ever said to yourself, “I eat because I am sad”? If you look at this statement, you might find that, even though you’d like to lose weight, eating cookies hurts less than feeling sad. But how do you know that? When was the last time you let yourself feel sad without turning to a plate of cookies?
It is key to look into your feelings. Try to be aware of some of the common emotional eating cues.
Anger – Whether you’re angry with yourself, another person or a situation, you stifle your feelings if you use food to comfort yourself. It is better to confront your angry feelings in order to release them. It just seems like it is easier to smother a problem than to deal with it.
Hopelessness – You think: Nothing really matters anyway. Nothing's ever going to change or get better for me. So, why should I care about my health or weight? Besides, eating makes me feel better. Note that extreme feelings of hopelessness are a symptom of chronic depression. Please talk to a mental health professional if you always find yourself feeling hopeless.
Lack of Control – You think: My life is out of control. There is nothing in it that I am in charge of. Everyone and everything around me rules my life. Except for eating. I can eat what I want, when I want it. So I will.
Feeling Unappreciated/Unloved – Perhaps you’ve accomplished something really great at work and no one has noticed. Or maybe you’ve achieved a special success that you had dreamed of for years. But there is no one at home who shares your pride. You find yourself tempted to congratulate yourself by ‘treating” yourself to a binge.
Boredom – There is nothing to do. There is nowhere to go. Perhaps you feel lonely, too. There is nothing at home to busy your mind or fill your hours. But there is a pantry full of comfort food that will kill some of that empty time.
Stress – You’re racing to leave work on time to get your kids to their soccer practice, you have a meeting later tonight but you don’t know what to cook for supper, and on top of that you missed lunch because you ran errands. You are stressed out and a quick fast food drive-through will ease the tension.
What are some practical steps for changing patterns?
Be sure to meet your basic needs first
You need to have enough sleep.
Eat a variety of good food and make time for regular meal times.
Get plenty of activity.
When you drink alcohol, limit yourself to 1 to 2 drinks.
Nurture yourself in old and new ways
Listen to soothing music.
Take a yoga class.
Get a massage.
Learn to meditate.
Relax in a sauna or Jacuzzi.
Seek support from a network of friends.
Buy fresh flowers for your home or office.
Find other ways of coping and distracting yourself
Read a book.
Rent a movie or go to the movies.
Take a drive.
Put on some music and dance.
Take a nap.
Work in the garden.
Talk on the phone.
Start a new hobby.
Go for a walk.
Learning and applying healthy coping skills will help you face problems head-on. This may help improve your relationship with food.
Do you need help managing weight in relation to your other medical conditions? Would you like a program individualized to your lifestyle? Are you having difficulty knowing how to begin? Is it difficult for you to stay motivated? Then we encourage you to meet with a registered dietitian at any of our locations listed below.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/31/2012
Copyright © 08/31/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#407
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