If we were all able to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re sufficiently full, we’d be the right weight for our individual bodies. Our bodies are equipped with innate sensors telling us when we need to eat and when we are satiated. So what gets in the way of eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full? What causes us to sabotage our natural hunger regulators? Why do so many of us fall prey to cravings, mindless eating and emotional eating?
Emotional eating can rear its ugly head in many ways. Eating just because you’re bored, tired, lonely, anxious, uncomfortable, happy and so forth all count as emotional eating. Emotional eating and feeling out of control around food can be a problem at any weight; you don’t have to be overweight to struggle with it. Eating our emotions gets in the way of really understanding our hunger and fullness cues.
Getting emotional eating under control can make a difference in not only weight, but it can also lead to a greater sense of peace about food, body image and other related issues. Since we all want to be healthy physically, mentally and otherwise, how can we stop eating our emotions? I’m so glad you asked! The first step is pausing and asking yourself if you’re really hungry.
I know — it sounds too simple, but part of learning how to stop eating your emotions means investing the time to stop and assess yourself. Before reaching for something to eat, briefly pause and ask yourself if you’re physiologically hungry. Take a moment to decide if the feeling you are experiencing is true hunger or if it’s something else. If you decide it’s real hunger, go prepare a meal or snack that’s suitable for the time of day and the amount of hunger you’re experiencing. If you’d like some help assessing whether you’re physiologically hungry, read more about the hunger scale.
If you pause and figure out you’re experiencing some other emotion (such as boredom, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, etc.) take actions that make sense based on that emotion.
For example, if you want to reach for something to eat, but you pause and decide you’re really feeling bored and lonely, reach out to a friend, go for a walk, write a letter or create something. If you decide you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming deadline, create a list of tasks to be completed and start checking things off.
Are you a visual learner? Check out this simple eating-decision tree below.
Now that we’ve talked through the basic principle of listening to hunger cues, the next step is to figure out how to be more attuned and aware of what our bodies are trying to tell us. Here are three simple tips to help you differentiate true hunger cues from emotional triggers.
Improving your relationship with food takes practice, so it’s OK not to have immediate results. Celebrate your successes, and learn from your struggles as you continue to move forward and make improvements. Be compassionate and kind to yourself, and remember to pause before eating, listen to your body and honor what it’s telling you to do.
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