Ways to Win Emotional Hunger Games

Chad A. Buck, PhD: Work/Life Connections – EAP and Health Plus

Many people struggle with eating well, and emotions can definitely complicate efforts to improve eating habits. Here are a few strategies to help the odds be ever in your favor:

  1. Manage your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try an easy-to-remember stress management technique. For example, do 4×4 Breathing: inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. Do it 4 times. You will feel much less stressed.
  2. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Is your hunger physical or emotional? Rate each type of hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not at all hungry and 10 being extremely hungry. If you are more emotionally than physically hungry, delay, distract, and then decide.
  3. Delay. Distract. Decide. When you know your hunger is emotional in nature, take at least 10 minutes and distract yourself. Take a walk, play with your pet, listen to music, read a book, surf the Internet, or call a friend. After you finish the distraction, decide what you want to do. You probably can get through the craving with a little time.
  4. Become a detective. Keep a notebook handy and try to write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat, and how hungry you are. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal the connection between your mood and food.
  5. Stay connected. You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends and/or consider joining a support group. You can also use technology, such as social media websites, FaceTime, or Skype.
  6. Lead thee not into temptation. Don’t keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they’re hard for you to resist. Also, if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’re sure that you have your emotions in check. Going to the grocery store in a bad mood sets you up to buy things you might normally be able to pass by.
  7. Don’t deprive yourself. A lot of people think you have to suffer to achieve a weight-loss goal. People limit calories too much, eat the same foods frequently, or banish the treats they enjoy in an all-or-nothing kind of approach. These behaviors only serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Enjoy occasional treats and plan for when that will happen. Vary your choices or days you get to enjoy treats so you don’t get bored or resentful.

For more help with emotional eating issues, please call 615-936-1327 to make an appointment with a Work/Life Connections – EAP counselor.