Emotional eating is an eating behaviour pattern often triggered by stressful situations, as people use food, especially junk food, to deal with their distressing emotions. Emotional eating has both physical and psychological causes. Apart from stress and anxiety, boredom and fatigue, can also be triggers for emotional eating. If you have a lot of friends who are foodies and like to regularly consume unhealthy foods and desserts, this can also lead to this unhealthy eating behaviour. It can be a learned behaviour if your parents or other caregivers used to reward you with sweet treats after a tough day when you were a child.
The good news is that there are several coping strategies which can help you to stop binging on your bag of chips or rich chocolate cake:
• Awareness is the first step. You need to acknowledge that this emotional eating pattern exists and recognise what triggers it in your life.
• Keep a daily food diary, where you note down everything that you eat during the day. This will help you realise what all you eat for emotional reasons rather than physical hunger.
• You can also think about your behaviour when you are tempted to eat something to numb your emotions. Note how hungry you feel, which unpleasant emotions you are trying to avoid, etc.
• The next step is to think of ways you can change this behaviour. Whenever there is a trigger, you can come up with something else, like a new hobby or activity, to divert your mind instead of turning to food.
• If stress is the biggest trigger for you, then you will need to find other ways of managing stress, such as yoga/exercise, meditation, spending time in nature, etc.
If you face a lot of difficulty in changing your relationship with food, it might be a good idea to talk to a therapist or psychologist to break the cycle. A nutritionist or wellness coach can also be very helpful in creating a meal plan and exercise regime for you to follow in order to meet specific health goals and keep track of your eating habits and physical activity. Following a plan, with the support of a coach, will be able to help you gradually adopt positive eating habits and develop some self-discipline.