Most individuals I counsel experience some form of emotionally eating. Emotional and compulsive eating is primarily fueled by our thoughts and feelings, however, there are skills (nutritionally based) that can help. After more than 10 years of working with clients of ages and lifestyles, here are the 12 most helpful nutritional skills they found effective in combating emotional eating.

  1. STAY ON SCHEDULE. Be consistent with your meal times, no exceptions. A baby cries when it is hungry. Regardless if you shed a tear, eating is not optional. You may not have consistent accurate hunger cues. Eat meals at regular times daily and also eat when you are truly hungry. A regular pattern of eating is your first line of defense against bingeing.
  2. DESSERT WITH DINNER. Plan to have dessert, no rules, no bargains or limits, fit them into your meal plan. If your goal is to end binge/emotional eating, elimination of desserts and favorite foods simply won’t work. Suggestions for better management include having dessert with dinner, don’t wait until your really hungry later, you are more likely to binge/over eat. Also, a night time snack might be more manageable if it is not a “trigger food”.
  3. EAT BASED ON YOUR CURRENT HUNGER. Avoid the temptation to over think your eating history. Avoid making choices based on what you previously ate or how you plan to eat. Make reasonable choices and be satisfied in the moment, often over eating is a consequence of under eating and/or judging ourselves and our food. “Fixing” the last meal or binge doesn’t work, forgive, forget, move on... Focus on the PROCESS of normal eating, not the problem of binge/compulsive eating.
  4. EAT WHAT YOU WANT IN FRONT OF OTHERS. Hiding foods or eating certain foods only when alone, occurs when we feel ashamed or embarrassed about our food. No one should be judging your food, least of all you. This produces a pattern of eating that includes hoarding, isolation, bingeing, shame and guilt. Practice portion control with all foods and eating honestly, this will deflate the patterns.
  5. DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR EATING. Stop promising “I’ll eat better tomorrow” or “I don’t usually eat this” Verbalizing diet mentality, reinforces the thinking that dieting is good and you are “good” if you diet, “bad” if you don’t. Replace diet mentality with positive thoughts…”I am a great gardener, lawyer or friend”.
  6. THINK OF “DEFENSE” AGAINST BINGEING. Be satisfied not just full. When you fill up on carrots or diet, fluffy chips, you probably won’t be satisfied. Balance out your choices, consider the food groups and portion control. Less carrots with a few spoonfuls of hummus, or an apple with peanut butter can prevent overeating later. Even though emotional eating is not about hunger, being hungry will set the stage for emotional eating even when other skills are readily available.
  7. ORDER DESSERT WITH OTHERS. This is a great opportunity to enjoy a dessert with less opportunity to binge. Practice portion control with dinner and save room for dessert. You may also have dessert a little time later while still in the company of others, plan an activity after dessert for distraction, in the event negative thoughts and urges surface.
  8. REVIEW AND REVISE. Reflect on your day. What events preceded or lead up to emotional eating and what can be changed. It might be simple; walking in the front door instead of the kitchen after work. Or involve more planning; packing lunches at night, a snack for the after work commute. Awareness and self exploration is a tremendous part of the process.
  9. BE FLEXIBLE. The more rules you have about food and trying to control it, the more you risk feeling out of control. Pick up dinner out if you are working late, don’t delay a meal, just so you can have your planned dinner at home. Eat an extra snack if you are hungry, even if it is just before bed. You won’t be eating more if you avoid binge eating. Give yourself permission to have a snack at night, have variety, avoid creating a “habit” of eating, what would you really enjoy.
  10. DO NOT MULTI-TASK. When you snack at night, practice mindfulness. Fix your snack and enjoy it sitting at a table. Avoid snacking and reading, watching TV or being on the computer. Associating these activities with eating can lead to overeating and binge eating. Mindfulness allows time to feel your hunger and your fullness without distraction.
  11. AVOID LABELING FOOD. No food alone is wrong, no one meal should “ruin” your day. It is not the food that is bad, it is the the label you attach or your attitude about the food. Conversely no one group of foods are right, you may prefer organic or a certain brands, just don’t sacrifice getting nutrition if your preferred choices are not available.
  12. COPING VERSUS EATING. Once you’ve defended yourself from emotional eating with good nutrition skills, create a list of alternate actions or distractions from compulsive eating. Bubble baths, painting your nails, crafts, not isolating, on-line support groups, going to bed, going for a walk, journal, yoga or meditation tape/class, knit or read. Have your list readily available, on your phone or posted at home where you’ll be certain to see it, compulsive/impulsive eating can occur anytime, be prepared.

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