Emotional eating is one of the most common obstacles to weight loss success. What is emotional eating, and how can you tell if it’s a problem for you?
Emotional eating occurs when you eat in reaction to your feelings rather than a physical need for food. Almost everyone eats for reasons other than actual hunger at some point, but some of us do it often enough that it causes weight gain or prevents weight loss.
Many people associate emotional eating with stress, but a wide range of emotions can cause people to reach for food. In fact, you may even find yourself eating as a result of happy emotions. Do you celebrate special occasions with specific foods? Do you go out to eat when you get good news? These habitual responses to good feelings can be just as damaging to a weight loss plan as eating to cope with negative feelings.
Keeping a food journal can help you identify your own emotional eating habits. For one week, write down everything you eat. Take note of what time you ate, how much you ate, what foods you ate, and what emotions you were feeling at the time. After a week, you will probably recognize a pattern that indicates what emotions are most likely to lead to eating. Often emotional eating causes us to overeat or make unhealthy food choices, so be on the lookout for those associations.
Once you’ve identified your emotional eating patterns, use that information to create personalized solutions. If you eat in order to celebrate, create a list of other activities that make you feel good. If you eat in response to negative emotions, brainstorm other coping strategies you can practice.