9 Strategies to Stop Overeating
How to Avoid Emotional Eating over the Holidays
The holidays are filled with family and friends, music, food, tradition, and good cheer. Yet, for many, the holiday season is associated with anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and loneliness. If the holidays bring up negative emotions for you, you may be tempted to reach for comfort foods. However, doing so can only lead to emotional numbing and develop an unhealthy relationship with food. By creating an arsenal of tactics to prevent stress-eating, finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions, and seeking help you can overcome your tendency to eat emotionally and enjoy the holiday season.
Adopting Better Practices
Don’t bring unhealthy foods in your home.If you’re concerned about giving in to cravings, your best option is to make your home off-limits to binge-worthy foods. Stocking your pantry with junk food items or comfort food only creates temptation.
- Instead stock your fridge and pantry with healthy, whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and low-fat dairy. Purchase snacks like nuts, dried or fresh fruit, cheese, or boiled eggs to munch on in between meals.
Eat balanced meals at regular intervals.The trick to preventing emotional eating is to stay full on healthy, fiber-filled foods. You’re less likely to lose control if you are eating at regular times. People often give in to stress-eating when they skip a meal, so be sure to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and include a few snacks throughout the day.
- Choose foods high in fiber that keep you full longer such as oatmeal, whole grain bread (sprouted whole grain bread is best if it is available), beans, and fruits and vegetables.
Practice moderation.When you engage in emotional eating you are more than likely to reach for foods that are normally off-limits such as sweet desserts or salty snacks. However, if you stop restricting yourself, you won’t have the desire to gorge when you’re having a bad day.
- Rather than over-indulging, give yourself the okay to enjoy a special holiday treat in moderation so that you don’t feel deprived.
- For instance, allow yourself to eat a small dessert each day like a square of dark chocolate. This satisfies cravings without going overboard.
Plan ahead for events.The holidays involve no shortage of calorie-laden foods that can be used to numb emotional pain. This time of year may already have you feeling stressed and low in willpower, so don’t put yourself in the position to make unhealthy choices. When you attend the various parties and festivities happening during the holiday season, use strategies to sidestep emotional eating. These might include:
- Eat before you leave to ensure you have a nutritious meal instead of betting on there being healthy options on the menu.
- Take only small portions if you must choose high-calorie, unhealthy foods.
- Bring a healthy dish along with you. If there aren’t any other acceptable choices, you’ll know you have something to nibble on that fits your diet.
Limit alcohol.Booze can be the devil’s advocate when it comes to making unhealthy food choices during the holidays. Pretty much every event is overflowing with wine, champagne, eggnog, and spiked cider—all primed to steal away your inhibitions and have you tearing through the dessert table like there’s no tomorrow.
- Eat a balanced meal before you start drinking to cushion alcohol’s effect. Or, if it’s not all that important to you, avoid alcohol altogether to skip the added calories.
Turn off electronics before you eat.Some people like to eat while watching TV, while working on a computer, or while looking at a phone or tablet screen, but these habits can lead to overeating. If you are focused on the TV, computer, tablet, or phone screen, then you will be less aware of how much you are eating. This may cause you to eat more than you normally would.
- If you tend to eat in front of your TV or computer, then try eating at your kitchen or dining room table instead. Eat your meals at the same time as other members of your household and use the time to socialize with them.
- Put away your phone, tablet, and any other electronic devices while you are eating as well.
Coping with Negative Emotions and Stress
Exercise.If you’re worried about finances or grieving a loved one who won’t be around this year, you’re more likely to receive positive benefits from physical activity than a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream. When you have a craving get your body moving with short bursts of exercise.
- Staying active promises your body will be flush with mood-boosting endorphins that will make you feel better about your situation and make it less likely that you’ll turn to food to cope.
- Do at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. Try short spurts of exercise like sprinting, walking around the neighborhood, or having a snowball fight outdoors with family and friends.
Write in a journal.Journaling can be a terrific way to spot connections between how you’re feeling and what you’re eating or craving.You can keep a log of your meals over the holidays, but if you’re indulging on comfort foods that can make you feel even worse about yourself.
- Instead try setting aside a few minutes each day to write about your thoughts and feelings. Journaling in this way can actually help you to gain more insight into what’s causing your stress or poor mood, and even give you an opportunity to problem-solve recurring mood patterns.
Call a friend.Support is extremely beneficial in helping improve your mood and encouraging you to make healthier food choices. Many of your family members, friends or coworkers may be able to relate to the temptation of giving in to emotional eating during this time of year. Reach out to someone and explain what you’re going through. They may be willing to serve as an accountability partner, or, at the very least, offer their support.
- You might say, “Hey, Rebecca, I heard you mention how you’re worried about making bad dietary choices over the holidays. So am I. Especially since I get kind of stressed during this time of year. What are you doing to prevent unhealthy eating?”
Be mindful.Mindful eating is a technique found to be effective at reducing emotional eating. It involves focusing on the present moment by truly tasting your food so that you are aware of what’s going into your body. Oftentimes, when you’re eating because you feel bad you just shove things into your mouth without a second thought. Mindfulness requires that you slow down and bring awareness to meal times.
- To practice mindful eating, serve yourself appropriately and sit down at the table with no distractions. Think about all that went into preparing this meal. Express gratitude for having delicious food to eat and/or wonderful people to share the meal with.
- Next, observe the different colors and textures on your plate. Take a bite. Really take in the flavors associated with each food. Sit your fork down and chew 20 to 40 times before continuing.
- Being mindful at other times during the day may also help to prevent overeating. For example, you could practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth, walking your dog, or while cleaning your kitchen.
- You could also begin a daily meditation practice to help you reduce your stress. Start small and try to work up to 30 minutes of meditation every day. One study showed that adding mindful eating practices and 30 minutes of daily meditation prevented holiday weight gain.
Don’t beat yourself up if you stress-eat.If you do happen to give in to one too many cookies or glasses of eggnog, resist the pity-party. Getting down on yourself about emotional eating only worsens the situation and puts you in a position to continue to make poor choices. You say, “Well, I’ve already went over on my calories today. I may as well eat two more slices of cake.”
- Prevent this vicious cycle of negativity by giving yourself a break. If you overeat, simply get yourself back on track right away.
Treating Emotional Eating
Recognize whether you need help controlling your emotional eating.Despite your own attempts, you may need to see a professional to effectively get a handle on emotional eating. This is especially true if these patterns are deeply ingrained habits that you have been reinforcing since childhood. The first step is to bring awareness that you have a problem and that you need help.
- You can make it easier to seek help by first talking to someone you trust about your emotional eating. Tell a friend, sibling, or partner: “During the holidays I have a tendency to eat my feelings. I have already gained five pounds this year because of it.”
- Talking to someone supportive can help you acknowledge the problem and give you the confidence to see a professional. Ask your loved one to help you find a therapist and join you at your first appointment for support.
Address the underlying issue in therapy.Eating isn’t the core issue here. Rather it is the link you have developed between unpleasant feelings and food that helps numb those feelings. In order to treat emotional eating you must work with a therapist to identify your triggers and develop healthier ways of coping with those unpleasant feelings.
- One of the most effective approaches for treating this condition is cognitive behavioral therapy which focuses on becoming aware of negative or unrealistic thought patterns that influence your mood and drive behaviors.Other effective techniques that therapists might use along with CBT include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Skills Groups Therapy, or Meditation and Mindfulness techniques.
- Research a therapist in your area who has experience with this type of therapy and with people who have disordered eating patterns.
Take part in a support group.There are many ways to find healing from emotional eating.Participating in therapy is probably your best option. Still, knowing that you are not alone in your struggle can also lessen the shame you feel about stress-eating. Find a support group in your area directed at bringing people like you together.
- Hearing the trials and victories of others who eat emotionally can help you to heal from this issue and find support in the process.
Video: HOW I STOPPED EMOTIONAL EATING
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