How to Stop Emotionally Overeating

There’s an old adage that goes, “It’s better to face your stuff than to stuff your face.” In addition to being an obnoxious statement, that is far easier said than done!

To maintain a healthy relationship with food, or to gain clarity and more acceptance around food, it may require you to re-connect to your body and your natural appetites. And if you’re like a lot of people, food has become the “friend” you turn to when you are feeling blue, dealing with anger, or feeling unloved.

When these emotions start to bubble up, it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you may use food to stuff them back inside you (literally), so you won’t have to deal.

We all know that doesn’t serve you well in the long run.

Do You Turn to Food to Soothe Anger or Loneliness?

You may not even realize just how much your relationship with food is impacting who you are and how you live your life. Thankfully, you can learn how to “face your stuff” with expert tips from Amen Clinics. 

1. Manage Your Stress

When you get frazzled, do you calm your nerves with ice cream or cheeseburgers? Rest assured there are better ways to deal with stress. Meditation, yoga, tai chi and deep breathing exercises, for starters, are simple techniques that help improve your equanimity and help reduce your cravings to overeat.

Considering that stress is one of the most common triggers for emotional overeating, reducing your anxiety can be vital to changing your eating patterns.

2. Exercise Every Day

Physical exercise is a super-fantastic, all-natural way to help increase self-control and feelings of confidence and well-being. Exercise also boosts your mood in a number of ways:

  • Working out increases serotonin in your brain to help you get unstuck when you can’t stop thinking about pepperoni pizza, potato chips, beer, etc.
  • It increases blood flow and dopamine in your brain, which improves impulse control
  • It clearly reduces stress, balances your mood, and stabilizes your blood sugar levels so you won’t overeat.

3. Nosh Mindfully

Being present means paying attention to what you are doing, thinking, feeling, smelling, touching, and tasting in the moment. This is especially important for folks who camp out on the couch all evening and devour bags of cookies without even realizing it.

Unfortunately, it’s usually quantity over quality when it comes to emotional eating!

By contrast, when you eat mindfully, you pause gratefully on each bite of food and become aware of the smells, tastes, colors, and textures. You learn to savor each bite without checking your phone or watching Survivor reruns. Mindful eating can help you become more aware of feeling full and teaches you to sidestep carb cravings.

4. Balance Your Serotonin

The fastest way to balance your blood sugar and decrease cravings (which will help you avoid emotional overeating) is to decrease the amount of high-glycemic, low-fiber carbohydrates you eat (simple sugars, sodas, processed foods). Instead, focus on clean, lean proteins and smart carbohydrates, which we define as low-glycemic, high-fiber.

Serotonin, the “don’t worry, be happy” brain neurotransmitter, is at least partially responsible for mood stability, sleep regulation, appetite control, and social engagement. Often the reason that people emotionally overeat is that they are unconsciously trying to increase depleted serotonin levels. They intuitively crave carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta and bread because simple carbohydrates can raise serotonin levels, and temporarily increase your feelings of well-being.

If you’re in need of serotonin-boosting carbs, reach for whole grains and

carbs derived from plant foods like sweet potatoes, blueberries, pears, and apples.

5. Don’t Deprive Yourself (Completely!)

Avoiding every treat or food you like is a set up for failure: Allow yourself to enjoy those treats that you look forward to, but keep in mind there’s no need for an all-out binge-fest. In fact, research indicates that the first few bites of food are the most satisfying. So, follow the three-bite rule – be fully present and conscious while you have those first three bites so you can really concentrate on enjoying the food.

6. Use H-A-L-T to Curb Emotional Eating

To keep emotional overeating in check, learn to H-A-L-T, which stands for:

  • Don’t get too Hungry. Going too long without food lowers your blood sugar levels, which can lead to irritability, which can directly trigger overeating.
  • Don’t get too Angry. Uncontrolled antagonism can send you running to the cookie jar to calm your raging emotions.
  • Don’t get too Lonely. Social skills and a nurturing social network are critical to your emotional well-being. Enlist a team of supporters and healthy role models.
  • Don’t get too Tired. Sleep deprivation leads to a brain that cannot cope as well with stressful situations, leading to worsening moods, greater irritability, increased anger, and more frustration. When emotions are running wild, you are more apt to run to the refrigerator for solace. Make sleep a priority to boost brain function and improve judgment and self-control.

Be patient and learn how to balance your emotions and overeating eating triggers. More sleep, a support network and dietary supplements can all potentially support healthy serotonin balance in the brain, which can minimize emotional overeating.