If you are bored or under stress, is your first urge to open the refrigerator? Do you turn to food when you feel tired, lonely, sad or want to reward yourself (e.g., “I had a bad day and deserve it”)?
Many people do. And when they do, they tend to reach for comforting but unhealthy foods high in sugar, salt and fat (i.e., junk food) to fill their emotional needs rather than their stomachs.
Turning to food to mask, bury or ‘fix’ feelings is called Emotional or Stress Eating. It can be triggered by anything from work stress, financial worries and relationship conflicts to hormonal changes, mixed hunger cues and concerns about a public health crisis or global pandemic like Covid-19.
Seeking comfort in food is common, but emotional eating can become a vicious cycle that evolves into an unhealthy lifestyle. Negative emotions can lead to feelings of emptiness, and food may fill that void temporarily. Sadly, though, it may also leave you feeling worse since the emotions that caused you to overeat in the first place are still there.
In moderation, treating yourself to your favorite foods is not a problem. But uncontrolled, emotional eating can cause intense cravings for high calorie sweets, sugary drinks and fattening foods like ice cream, cake, pasta, chips and pizza. Over time, it can also increase your risk for inflammation and chronic disease, leading to serious physical and mental health issues including, but not limited to:
- Weight gain
- Binge eating, food addictions & other disorders (e.g., anorexia, bulimia)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Anxiety or depression from suppressing negative emotions
How Stress Management Coaching Can Help
If you struggle with emotional eating, you are not alone! Coaching can help you find more satisfying ways to feed your feelings and regain control over stress and cravings. Personal coaching provides step-by-step guidance and skills for re-establishing a healthy relationship with food by helping you:
Identify your emotional triggers. Strong feelings like anger, frustration and sadness often trigger emotional eating. Fatigue, boredom and social pressure are also common triggers. It can be easier to overeat, for instance, when you feel tired, have nothing to do, or spend time with friends and family. Awareness of stressors is the first step to counteracting stress and overcoming emotional eating. Take our free stress quizzes to assess your emotional triggers.
Recognize physical vs. emotional hunger. Unlike physical hunger, emotional hunger can cause you to crave specific foods. For example, if you just ate a big meal and are reaching for a pint of ice cream, ask yourself if you’re still hungry or if your mood is causing the craving. Satisfying physical hunger and giving your body the healthy nutrients it needs is not associated with negative emotions, whereas overeating may cause you to feel regret, shame or guilt.
Increase mindful eating. Noticing when you’re more likely to overeat and drink can help eat more mindfully. Keeping a food diary is a great way to gain insight into your current habits and lifestyle. Monitoring your food, water, caffeine and alcohol intake as well as how you feel at the time can empower you to make better choices, curb mindless snacking, improve nutrition and avoid weight gain.
Alleviate the impact of physical stress. Addressing the physical reasons why stress can cause you to overeat is also key. When you’re under constant chronic stress, your body releases high levels of cortisol and hunger hormones that increase your appetite and cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Reducing symptoms of physical stress will help you prevent it from spiraling into an eating disorder that can be difficult to control.
Learn new coping skills. Deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation and regular exercise are natural remedies to ease stress. Reducing tension, slowing your breath, calming your mind and physical activity including low impact yoga or tai chi can give you a positive boost that can help counteract emotional triggers to stress eat.
Ready to find relief? Read about our Stress Management Programs and schedule a free discovery call today. Learn how health coaching can help you break free from the cycle of emotional eating so you can live with greater ease, balance, joy and wellbeing.