Emotional Eating, and It’s Not Even Christmas Yet!

How Can I Gift Dark Chocolate Figs If I Eat Them All?

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Food is supposed to nourish and fuel us, but eating can also be triggered by feelings other than hunger, such as boredom, anxiety or depression. Signs that you may be eating for emotional reasons include sudden cravings for sweets or specific foods, eating when it’s unlikely that you’re hungry (such as 30 minutes after dinner) and feeling guilty after eating.

While I’ve had a handle on emotional eating during the past 12-14 months, I’ve been fighting it tooth and nail for the last few weeks – in some cases, not so successfully! In that time, I had to put my beloved dog, Winston, down, and my terminally ill father’s health has declined rapidly – not to mention the advent of hectic holiday season. When I get this lump in my throat and racing in my chest, too often, I’m heading to the kitchen.

Chocolate seems to be my “go to feel better emotional food.” Strangely, it’s not necessarily the amount that I’ve eaten, but the way in which I’ve eaten it. I set out to eat only three say Dark Chocolate Salted Figs, and before I know it, nine are gone. And while that’s not horrible – the figs have fiber and dark chocolate antioxidants – it’s the mindless, automatic nature of the eating that concerns me.

As part of my healthy lifestyle journey, I’ve done some research on emotional eating and found a few tips that have helped me avoid it:

  1. Keep a journal of what and when you eat to better understand the pattern. Sometimes just being aware that you are emotionally eating helps curb it.
  2. Try to keep unhealthy foods (or foods that you tend to eat when emotional) out of your personal space, such as your house, office and/or car.
  3. When the urge to eat strikes, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. If not, find an alternative. Walk, work out, read, take a hot bath – do anything except eat.
  4. Try to identify the feeling that’s triggering your emotional eating and learn to tolerate and/or otherwise express the emotion. (I hate to cry, but tears can actually be very therapeutic.)
  5. Consider recording your feelings or sharing them with a trusted friend or family member.
  6. Learn a relaxation technique, such as meditation. (I’ve found a great iPhone app that leads you through a meditation exercise: Mayo Clinic Meditation. Yoga is also a great stress buster.)

As we get closer to what can be the stressful season, let’s swap secrets and trade tips on how to enjoy a more relaxed, happier and healthier holiday! If you’re one of the lucky ones who can handle stress without a sausage ball in one hand, peppermint bark in the other — how do you do it? If, like me, you are an emotional eater, how do you manage your feelings sans mocha mint cheesecake? We’re every woman, and together, we can keep that emotional eating at bay this holiday season.

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