Using food as a source of comfort is something most people struggle with at some point in their lives. Emotional eating is also something we don’t like to discuss (Politics, Religion, and Eating Habits, right?).
Emotional eating is personal, and for some it’s painful, but it doesn’t have to be this way! There are strategies to work through it.
Start by trying to be most aware during your “trigger” times. The most common emotional eating times are mid-to-late afternoon, and after 8 PM. With this awareness, you can apply this DO HALT strategy:
During periods of stress, trigger times, or emotional urges, before you reach for food stop and ask yourself:
Am I Dehydrated?
Am I Overwhelmed?
Am I Hungry?
Am I Angry?
Am I Lonely?
Am I Tired?
This is the DO HALT method, and it works by improving awareness of what you actually need in that moment.
Here’s the breakdown:
D: Dehydrated? Thirst or dehydration can trigger hunger and food cravings even if it’s water that your body is actually seeking. Any time a food craving strikes, drink a big glass of water first.
O: Overwhelmed. Emotional eating is using food to cover up uncomfortable emotions. Overwhelm is probably the most common negative feeling I run up against with clients. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, what you’re probably seeking is peacefulness, or a feeling of being in control. Food can’t give you that.
H. Hungry? Physical hunger hits below the neck, builds gradually, is easily satisfied, and energizes you. Emotional hunger hits above the neck, has a sudden onset, is not easily satisfied, and leaves you feeling tired, sluggish, and often guilty. If you’re unsure what kind of hunger you’re experiencing, ask yourself where you feel it in your body, and eat a healthy snack or a few bites of the food you crave. See what you feel like 20 minutes afterwards. If you feel satisfied, you were likely experiencing physical hunger. If the craving strengthens, or now you want something else, it’s probably emotional hunger.
A. Angry? Before you eat anything, identify honestly 1) What happened and 2) Why it made you so angry. Once you’re clear and honest, then find a different outlet for your angry energy: Run, do some pushups or jumping jacks, climb stairs, or get on a bicycle or elliptical. Need to settle down instead? Meditate, write, do some breathing practice, or read something relaxing.
L. Lonely? Call a friend, take a walk outside, or invite someone over! If you feel like you have nobody to talk to, join a book club, fitness class, volunteer group, or consider getting a pet. Pets are not only great companions, but they lead to increased interaction, get you out of the house, and provide common ground to spark conversations.
T. Tired? Fatigue and under-sleeping will really turn on the food cravings. Practice good sleep hygiene (like going to bed at a regular time, and staying away from screen time 2 hours before bedtime). Be sure to eat regularly enough throughout the day — if your blood sugar drops too low, it will cause your energy to crash and your food cravings to surface.