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Simple ideas to overcome emotional eating

When you’re feeling sad, anxious, stressed, lonely, frustrated, or happy about something, do you find yourself reaching for food? Do you find you overeat, feel guilty, then eat some more, because ‘what’s the point now, I’ve stuffed it’?  Emotional eating can be a vicious cycle.

Let’s face it, life happens! So at some point in time in our life, this will happen to most of us and it is unlikely to be a problem.  If you find this happens more often than not, it’s likely you are using food as a way to deal with your emotions.  Overcoming emotional eating in the long term is important, as we tend to make poorer quality food choices which can result in weight gain and health related problems.

There’s no quick fix or magic pill to make you stop emotional eating instantly.  Changing your eating habits and behaviour is hard work, so you need to get prepared. Here are a few tips to help you overcome emotional eating:

Decide that you want to change

Change – real change – requires that you give up one aspect of your life or behaviour for the sake of something better. In the end, you have to decide that changing your eating habits is more important to you than the foods that need to take a back seat.

Precisely articulate what triggers your cravings

Knowing what emotion triggers your desires for certain foods helps you prepare for those moments before they happen. If you tend to eat when you’re stressed, then instead of reaching for a chocolate bar when you walk away from your desk, bring your sneakers and go for a walk. Or when you’re feeling sad, and tempted to eat for no reason, take a shower and wash your hair. These other behaviours may help you feel more relaxed and calm.

Keeping a food diary can also help you become aware of, and identify emotional triggers, of your eating habits.

Find yourself a distraction tactic

A distraction tactic is something that you do instead of eating. You see, you can’t stop one habit easily without replacing it with another one. When you feel the temptation to reach for chocolate, one great way to stop yourself is to distract yourself with another activity to keep you physically busy or occupy your mind. It can be especially helpful to pick something you find enjoyable so that you are less likely to avoid doing it. Try:

  • Going for a walk
  • Reading a magazine
  • Doing some puzzles
  • Phoning a friend for a chat

If you’re the artistic type, you could keep some craft supplies on hand and try getting creative. At work, grab a colleague and take a stroll around the block. Signing up for evening classes to help fill your time with something fun and social, for example, a pottery, dancing, yoga, tai chi, or learn a new language class, can also be a great way of distracting you physically and mentally.

Don’t keep tempting food in the house – shop mindfully

This one is simple. If it’s not available, you can’t eat it. How often have you come home from the shops with those half-price specials on mint slices which you had no intention of buying? We’ve all done it before, so you’re not alone. There are some steps you can take to help you shop mindfully:

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it
  • Try not to shop when you’re hungry or stressed
  • Avoid the confectionery aisle at the supermarket
  • Look for snack foods in the fresh produce section, the dried fruit and nuts section and the dairy section instead. A piece of fresh fruit can make a fantastic snack when you’re in the mood for something sweet.  Fruit is low in fat and much less energy-dense than snack foods with added sugar. Fruit is high in many important nutrients and high in dietary fibre, which can help keep you satisfied

Manage stress and mood levels

When we’re feeling stressed or unhappy, we are more likely to turn to energy dense foods. Unfortunately, eating these foods can then make us feel worse, leading to a vicious circle of emotional eating. As a result, taking measures to manage your stress levels and lift your mood can be an essential step in improving your food choices. There are a few things that can help reduce stress, including:

  • Making sure you get a good night’s sleep
  • Try including some exercise in your day
  • Most importantly, seek professional help!  Talking to a psychologist about managing your stress can be very helpful and supportive


If you’re looking for more help to identify emotional triggers and support you in implementing strategies, need some extra inspiration, or would like some individualised advice on healthy eating, book in with one of our experienced dietitians online at The Healthy Eating Clinic or call us on 6174 4663.