If emotional eating is getting in the way of achieving your weight-loss goals, the good news is that you can change this pattern of behavior by putting a healthy plan in place. Here are six ways to get started.-Editor of The South Beach Diet
temptations from your kitchen
Out of sight, out of mind — or at least, out of your mouth. One of the easiest ways you can break your habit of reaching for unhealthy foods when your emotional triggers kick in is to simply remove them from your house. If you don’t have a pint of ice cream in the freezer, you’re less likely to indulge in it. To help maintain a healthy lifestyle, plan a monthly cupboard, pantry, fridge, and freezer cleaning to throw away any unhealthy foods that may have crept back in. When you’re at the grocery, be sure to avoid adding chips, cookies, and other baked goods and junk foods to your shopping cart (a good way to achieve this is to strictly follow a healthy shopping list and never go to the store hungry). If your family insists on having certain unhealthy foods around, ask them to store their foods in an out-of-eyesight snack drawer or cabinet.
Keep a journal
The power of the pen is mightier than the fork. If you know you’re not actually hungry, but a strong emotion is driving you toward eating, record your feelings in a journal along with the type and amount of food you ate (or what you were tempted to eat, if you refrained). This will help you make connections between your emotions and the foods that currently satisfy them. For example, some people turn to cookies or cake when they’re upset because indulging in sweets makes them “feel” better in the moment. Understanding the connection between your emotions and these unhealthy foods can help you create a strategy for countering such urges. Begin by training yourself to reach for a healthy snack, such as an apple with some no-sugar-added natural peanut butter, instead of junk food the next time your emotions start to get the best of you.
There’s no better way to channel your emotions than through your hobbies and talents. Instead of focusing on food, tap into other areas that bring balance to your life and make you happy. Do you like to paint? Dance? Take photos? Whenever you feel an emotional food trigger coming on, engross yourself in a fun, relaxing activity to help you take your mind off of your emotions and eating. And remember, even simple activities like listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, or calling a friend can also help preoccupy your mind and keep you from busting open that bag of chips.
Have healthy snacks at the ready
There are probably times when your emotional triggers kick in and you react by grabbing the nearest bag of chips, an ice cream cone, or more than a few cookies. And while we don’t recommend food as comfort, you can avoid unhealthy urges by stocking up on nutritious, satisfying snacks, such as a handful of nuts or seeds; reduced-fat cheese with whole-wheat crackers; or some hummus and veggie sticks. Then make sure you have them on hand for those times when emotions get the best of you. And remember, our protein- and fiber-rich South Beach Diet 100-Calorie Snack, Protein Fit, or Good to Go Bars Extra Fiber are excellent choices under any circumstances.
Take stock of your emotions
Before you grab that doughnut, take a moment to think, “Is this going to make me feel better?” Sometimes, you just need to step back and have a moment of clarity. Or if this doesn’t work, consider bargaining with yourself: Tell yourself you’ll wait 20 minutes, and if you’re still hankering for that doughnut, allow yourself a small piece and toss the rest, or put some in the freezer and treat yourself to a bite another day. When emotions overwhelm us, our first instinct may be to reach for something sweet, salty, or fatty, but these empty-calorie foods are not the ones our bodies need to really feel good. The next time you’re tempted to solve your problems or celebrate with food, be sure to weigh the positive and negative consequences. Yes, you may feel a little better right after a few bites of cheesecake, but within an hour, you’ll likely start regretting it — and worse yet, seek solace in more of the same.
Relieve stress and improve your mood with exercise
When you work out, you release endorphins, also known as “feel good” hormones, which can boost your mood and also help prevent bouts of emotional eating. Schedule a regular time slot to work out during the week (if you do so, you’ll be more likely to keep that “appointment”). Working out alone is a great time to contemplate emotional issues and exercising and chatting with family or friends can be just the tonic you need. If a bad mood has kept you indoors all day, head outside for some fresh air. Not only will you feel revitalized but you’ll also curb your hunger and be less tempted to seek food therapy in the kitchen when you get home.