Mind & Body

Stop Eating Your Feelings

Turning to food for emotional reasons can lead to all kinds of health problems. Find out how to get a handle on it.
Stop Eating Your Feelings
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2. Take notes
Keeping track of the reasons you’re eating makes you aware of your patterns and gives you an opportunity to make better choices, says Abramson. One way to do this is with a chart: Get out a pad or notebook and draw four columns labeled “time of day,” “location/ people,” “food/amount” and “emotion/ thought.” Each time you eat something that seems tied to your emotions instead of physical hunger, make a note of it. For instance, you might write: “2 p.m./at my desk/six Oreo cookies/nervous about big presentation.” At the end of the week, read over your record and look for patterns. What were the events, people, places, or situations that led you to eat?

3. Find solutions
If your chart reveals that you eat for reasons other than physical hunger, find new, food-free ways to distract or calm yourself. Here are a few of the most effective approaches:

Be more mindful A 2011 Journal of Obesity study found that emotional eaters who were trained in mindfulness—including meditation and mindful yoga stretches—experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved eating patterns and, consequently, reductions in abdominal fat. “When you’re mindful, you can calm your emotions through compassionate inner self-talk, meditation and breathing exercises,” says Albers.

Distract yourself “Doing anything that keeps you occupied, entertained and away from the kitchen is helpful,” says Albers. Exercising— whether it’s taking a walk or practicing yoga—is especially good since it helps to improve your mood and distracts you from an eating episode.

Connect with others Social support can make you feel comforted and help you cope with all kinds of stresses—not to mention motivate you to make healthy choices. That was certainly the case for Grant: “I found that I exercised more consistently if I was accountable to someone, so I hired a really positive personal trainer and took swimming lessons with a friend,” she says.