Emotional Eating & How You Can Take Control

Do you ever have a rough day and reach for a bowl of ice cream or glass of wine? Maybe you’re bored, so you grab a snack. Or maybe you’re so stressed by remote learning and virtual work that you decide you need to eat – which turns into a way of procrastinating and putting off an intimidating to do list.

Using food to respond to emotions is common.

In fact, over 1 in 3 people report emotional eating – and this number has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely one of those 1 in 3.

So what exactly is emotional eating and what can we do about it?

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism when you consume large quantities of food in response to feelings instead of hunger.

Here are some tangible steps you can take to limit emotional eating:

  1. Know your triggers: If you know that you eat out of boredom, find enriching activities that keep you engaged. Maybe it’s a puzzle, going for a walk, playing with your kids or fur babies, or calling a friend. This works with kids, too!

  2. Find positive coping mechanisms: Emotional eating, by default, is a type of coping mechanism. There are positive and negative coping strategies – from exercising (positive) to drinking alcohol (negative). Take some time to make a list of 3-5 coping strategies you can do the next time you find yourself wandering into the kitchen in response to emotions.

  3. Practice routine self-care: If you want to prevent emotional eating entirely, well, you can’t. Because you’re human, and we all do it on occasion! But in order to cut down on how often it happens, practicing self-care is a great first step. I have my clients come up with immediate and long-term self-care plans. Create a list of things you can do on-the-spot when you have 5-, 10- or 30-minutes. This could be a simple meditation, stepping outside, or calling a friend. Then, create a long-term plan – what are those things you will do consistently on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? Maybe it’s a monthly massage and a yearly getaway trip.

  4. Seek help for deeper problems: Emotional eating isn’t always superficial. It’s not always as easy as boredom or stress. There are other causes of emotional eating that exist on a deeper level – whether those be negative past experiences, childhood trauma, or a toxic relationship. Mental health professionals can help you work through those struggles, while registered dietitians - like me! - can help you unlearn negative eating habits and develop a healthier relationship with food. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – feel guilt or shame around food.

While emotional eating can negatively impact your daily life, you’re not in this alone. You have the power to take control and many people who can help you along the way!

Busy Babes Nutrition offers an online, self-paced course to help you take control over emotional eating. Check it out here & use the code SELFCARE to score 15% off.

Mary-Catherine is a military spouse, registered dietitian, business owner, and dog mama. She’s also a lover of outdoor activities, warm weather, traveling, inspirational quotes, and all things handmade.

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