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Emotional eating occurs when you consume food, but you are not physically hungry. Emotional eating can be brought on by a range of emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, frustration or stress. It is often used as a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with an underlying emotional issue.

Emotional eating is not always related to negative emotions though. Happy times can also lead to emotional eating. For example, birthdays are often associated with cake, going to the movies is often accompanied by popcorn and celebrations often involve alcoholic beverages.

How Can Emotional Eating Negatively Affect One’s Health?

Occasional emotional eating is okay, however it can become an issue when this behavior becomes an excessive or uncontrollable habit.

Emotional eating, when uncontrolled and repeated over time, may lead to weight-related health conditions such as:

  • Gaining weight
  • Hypertension
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol

Five Tips to Control Emotional Eating:

  1. Make a List of Your Triggers

Despite the fact that food soothes our emotions on occasion, it can be problematic if that’s the only means we know of soothing ourselves emotionally.

To prevent turning to food, it is important to identify any triggers you have. Typical triggers include:

  • Boredom
  • Poor performance review
  • An impending project deadline
  • A fight with a friend or spouse
  • A bad grade on an assignment

When you are aware of the stress trigger, you can put other self-care measures into place to help ease the emotions. For people who are prone to emotional eating triggers, Dietitians and Psychologists often recommend these self-care alternatives:

  • Read a book
  • Call a friend
  • Walk around the block
  • Take a shower
  1. Keep a Food and Emotion Diary

Keeping a food diary will allow you to note what you eat, how much you eat when you eat, and how you feel while eating. You may discover patterns that reveal the link between mood and food over time.

  1. Do Something Other than Eating to Reward Yourself

Emotional eating can easily occur if you are constantly associating good and bad events with food. Replacing a food reward like ice cream with something like painting your nails, getting a massage, or taking some ‘me time’ to read a book is a better choice.

  1. Identify Your Reasons for Eating

There is nothing inherently wrong with emotional eating. The key is to consume it mindfully. Pause and ask yourself why you are eating.

This hunger level scale is a great tool to use at each meal, to help you to identify if you are genuinely physically hungry, or eating for another reason: Hunger level scale (health.qld.gov.au)

  1. Have a Healthy Snack

Eating small regular meals and snacks is a good way to prevent physical hunger. It will also leave you feeling more satisfied, rather than too restricted. Examples of healthy snacks include yoghurt, boiled eggs, sliced apple with peanut butter, vegetable sticks with hummus dip, nuts, a slice of cheese or a glass of milk.

Key Takeaway Message:

It is necessary to learn to self-regulate eating behavior. If not done quickly, it may lead to weight gain. With a little help and a lot of dedication, you can achieve your weight-loss goals. Consult your weight loss surgeon or Dietitian at Perth Surgical & Bariatrics if you’re struggling to cope with emotional eating issues.