Coping with Emotional Overeating

Let’s be honest: most of us have reached for a favorite treat during a rough day. And, really, if a tasty pick-me-up now and then puts the smile back on your face, it’s a great remedy. But if you are addressing your blue mood with more than a small treat and find yourself eating to the point of discomfort and weight gain, you may be emotionally overeating.

Emotional overeating is the tendency to turn to food when you are feeling down, stressed, anxious, or over­tired. Some of us do this with the hope that filling our stomachs will lift our moods or distract us, whereas oth­ers have developed the habit of heading to the fridge when feeling sad or uneasy, even if we know that eating won’t help.

Emotional eating is not considered a clinical eating dis­order like anorexia or bulimia. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org), however, does consider emo­tionally driven eating “disordered eating,” which is de­fined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating dis­order.”

It is a frustrating cycle, and over time we risk weight gain and all its associated health risks. Also, as any of us who have ever fallen into an emotional eating pattern know, stuffing ourselves really doesn’t fix whatever has gotten us down, so we need different, more effective tools to boost our spirits and stay healthy when the going gets tough.

Name the Problem

If it is not genuine hunger but rather an emotional trigger that is driving you to the cookie jar, stop for a moment to consider what is really going on. Relationship or family trouble? Financial stress? A hard day at work?

What Can I Really Do About This Issue?

Make an effort to genuinely take care of yourself by con­sidering a real way to address what is bothering you. Re­mind yourself that otherwise the issue will still be there long after the ice cream is gone.

Eat Mindfully

If you believe that a treat is so good that it can take away your worries, you will want to make sure you are present to enjoy it fully. Avoid drowning your sorrows in a favorite delicacy—it won’t taste half as wonderful if you’re not in a happy mood to begin with. Wouldn’t you rather savor that pastry than distractedly swallow it? With some mindfulness about how much you are en­joying your food, you will also be less likely to overeat.

Find A Remedy

We have established that food won’t truly fix our spirits, especially if we overeat, so what can we do to feel better? We all have our own tricks for turning around a bad day: a chat with a friend, a warm bath, exercise, or a cuddle with a pet. Make a mental note of your remedy and turn to that before you hit the pantry. You will avoid the frus­tration and potential weight gain of emotional overeating and likely make real strides toward a better day.

—Mia James