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Tools for coping with emotional eating


Emotional eating, or stress eating, happens to the best of us.

Just because you have a tendency toward emotional eating doesn't mean you necessarily have an eating disorder – but without a certain degree of mindfulness, emotional eating can turn into a more serious problem.

Emotional Eating Tips

Here are some tips for coping with emotional eating that can help you develop more awareness and self-care:

  • Write down your triggers. You may think that you know when you tend to overeat, but you may be surprised by the actual patterns that emerge if you write down your triggers for emotional eating. Record on a daily or weekly basis what circumstances, events or feelings led to an episode of emotional eating. You could discover, for instance, that guilty feelings tend to set you off, or that coming home from work at a job you hate is a trigger for an emotional eating episode. Over time, you'll begin to become more aware of what causes these binges – and you can work to stop them.
  • Make a list of pleasure points. A list of "pleasure points" will help you remember what brings you pleasure, other than food. Activities like walking your dog, playing music, doing artwork or practicing yoga might be the things that bring you pleasure. When you notice yourself being tempted to indulge in food, pick one thing from your pleasure points list and do it. This helps to reinforce positive habits in response to emotional triggers.
  • Talk to a friend. Emotional eating is often a secretive behavior – you do it in private because you feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. But the truth is, many people are emotional eaters, and sometimes just talking to a sympathetic friend can help you realize you're not the only one. It takes the power out of the behavior and it helps you to understand that food is indeed comforting – there's nothing to be ashamed of about that. Try to find the comfort you're looking for in food with the company of loved ones with whom you can speak freely about your feelings.
  • Indulge. It may sound crazy, but giving yourself permission to indulge once in a while can actually help you stop emotional eating. That's because, again, it takes the power out of the behavior. Allow yourself that treat – but only on the basis that you won't feel bad about it or beat yourself up. When you can start to develop a healthy relationship with indulgence without categorizing your eating behaviors as "good" or "bad," emotional eating will cease to be a problem.
  • Seek help. If your emotional eating feels out of control or is rooted in deep psychological issues, you may not be able to navigate it on your own. There's nothing wrong with seeking help from an eating disorder specialist. Getting therapy is often the best way to cope with disordered eating habits, as you'll have the help of a qualified professional who can see things from an objective point of view.
    • Source: NIMH