For many people, consuming food is about much more than providing the body with essential nutrition. Eating can become linked to our emotions, which is fine for the occasional treat or celebration. However, when we turn to food for solace or stress relief, we may be entering an unhelpful cycle of behaviour that can be hard to break out of.
If you recognise that you are eating because you are bored, stressed out, or feeling low or anxious, you probably know that you are using food to try and soothe or avoid difficult feelings, rather than because you are physically hungry. It’s a very common reaction, but unfortunately the positive effects are only fleeting.
In the long run, consuming calories that we don’t need doesn’t satisfy emotional hunger, and is likely to lead to weight gain, and deepen feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction. To stop using food as a coping mechanism, it’s important to step outside of the cycle.
The first step is to identify your triggers for emotional eating. If your parents or carers rewarded you with cakes and pizza for good behaviour when you were a child, you may be trying to recreate those happy feelings. If you crave sugar when you are busy and stressed, you may be reacting to high levels of cortisol in your system.
Once you can recognise that your craving is emotional and not physical hunger, pause before you reach for a snack. A displacement activity, such as going for a short walk, speaking to a friend, or writing your feelings down in a journal, can help to reset your mind.
If you do decide to eat, try and employ mindfulness techniques, such as slowing down, and appreciating the taste and texture of the food, rather than quickly consuming large portions will little attention. If you are drawn to processed foods which are loaded with trans fats and sugar, try and avoid having these in the cupboard, and have healthy snacks to hand.
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