We all use different coping strategies when dealing with stress and other overwhelming emotions. Some use substances such as drugs and alcohol, some smoke cigarettes, and some charge a lot of money to their credit card. However, emotional eating is often one of the more common culprits that often goes unnoticed. 

Emotional eating often leads to weight gain and the development of health issues such as type two diabetes and high blood pressure – not to mention symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders. If left unchecked, emotional eating can lead to a life-long reliance on eating as a coping mechanism.

If you’re struggling with emotional eating, becoming more mindful of eating is how you can manage your food issues. 


Ways To Stop Emotional Eating


If you want to stop emotional eating, you have to increase your awareness of it and that starts with tracking what your eating.


1. Keep a Food Journal


Most emotional eaters are completely unaware of the kind or amount of food they eat on a daily or weekly basis. Start tracking what you consume as well as how much so you can recognize the real issue you may be having. This is not an exercise in harshly judging yourself, it’s simply so you can recognize the link between your emotions and eating habits.

For instance, you may see that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty okay days, but Thursday was when you got into an argument with your boss at work and also got a speeding ticket, and ALSO ate fast food for lunch and dinner and ate almost a gallon of ice cream. ????

Once you begin to see this kind of pattern (and others like it) over and over, (that you tend to eat on those days you are stressed, angry, sad, etc.), it will become easier to start making positive changes.


2. Make Portions


Tackling emotional eating starts with awareness. It’s hard to be aware when you’re sitting in front of the TV with a giant bag of Doritos in your lap.


When we eat emotionally, we don’t stop to think about the amount of food we are eating, we just shove it in out face mindlessly until we think we “feel better” or until we’re so full, we feel worse!

The next time you find yourself eating based on your emotions, try and catch yourself and measure out a fair-sized portion. For instance, don’t sit in front of the TV with an entire bag of potato chips, take out a small bowl’s worth and put the rest away. By the way, eating in front of screens is never a could idea because it’s so much easier to mindlessly just eat and eat and eat and eat!


3. Try Not to Eat Alone


When we’re alone, we might be more likely to eat a little reckless. But typically when we eat with others, we tend to have more awareness about what and how much we put in our mouths.

When your day is stressful, instead of going out to lunch by yourself, where you’re apt to hit the drive-through, invite some other people out. This may help you to use more self-control.


4. Swap Out Your Go-To Foods 


Emotional eating is a lot more difficult if you don’t have any of the usual suspects hiding in your pantry.


If there isn’t a giant bag of greasy chips at your fingertips, you can’t eat the whole bag. Stop trying to use willpower (which doesn’t work in the long-run) and get the comfort food out of your house. If it ain’t there, it’s pretty hard to eat it. ????

If you’re craving a salty snack, popcorn or some mixed nuts often do the trick. Popcorn provides whole grains that are an important source of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. You’ll also get antioxidants to help boost your immune system, not to mention far fewer calories than chips. Roasted chickpeas can be another great crunchy option with protein and fiber to fill you up.


5. Plan Ahead


If you know you like to use food as a comfort and you’ve got a stressful situation looming, plan ahead by preparing healthy snacks and food. Try pre-portion snacks such as nuts, sliced veggies, and popcorn in baggies or containers. You could consider these your “Just In Case” snacks or your emergency snacks. 


These are just a few of the ways you can begin to recognize your emotional eating and gain control over your food choices. If you feel like things are a bit beyond your reach and you need some additional support, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you sort things out.


James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.