There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a serving of ice cream or savoring some home-cooked comfort food. We all love a little treat from time to time!
The key is to examine why a craving for a treat pops up. Digging into a pint of ice cream because you’ve had a stressful day is a habit that can stand in the way of your wellness goals.
It’s not uncommon to use food to cope with feelings. For many people, emotional eating is a big obstacle in their health journey. Luckily, having a plan can help you avoid emotional eating.
Here are some techniques you can use to stop using food as a way of coping:
1. Use the STOP Technique
You have the power to interrupt your cravings if you wish. When you first have an urge to eat something due to a strong emotion, try to STOP:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Take a few deep breaths. Give your mind a chance to step away from your emotions and check in with your body.
- Observe your body’s level of hunger. Rate it on a scale from 1-10, 1 being stuffed and 10 being starved.
- Proceed with awareness. Maybe you choose to eat because your body is actually hungry. Or maybe you pass up on the food because, after thinking about it, you realize you don’t actually need it. The choice is yours!
2. Practice Mindfulness
When you are calm, you are less likely to turn to food to comfort yourself. Meditation comes in all different forms and can help relieve stress that can lead to emotional eating. Breathing exercises are one meditation strategy you can use. Try the following at least once a day for a few days and see how it impacts your eating habits:
- Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
- Position yourself so you are comfortable.
- Place one hand on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and fill your belly with air. Count slowly to three as you inhale. Try to imagine your stomach expanding like a balloon being blown up.
- Pause for a count of two.
- Exhale slowly through your nose to a count of three. Then blow out, like you’re blowing out birthday candles.
- As thoughts pop into your mind, notice them, then let them drift away like leaves in a stream. By practicing not indulging in those thoughts, you’re training yourself over time to have more control over which thoughts you choose to think.
3. Turn Down Stressful Moments
Having a plan to stop stress in its tracks can help you keep emotional eating in check. Here are a few things to try when you feel like you might turn to food for comfort:
- Write in a journal
- Take a walk outside
- Lay down and have a good stretch
- Talk to a supportive friend
- Listen to music that you find soothing
- Drink a hot cup of tea
- Take a relaxing bath
4. Move Your Body Regularly
Making movement part of your life can help you minimize the stress that leads to emotional eating. Take a walk, go for a run, sign up for a fitness class at your local community center. Any movement that you enjoy will help keep anxiety levels down.
5. Pause and Visualize
Before you eat, take a moment to imagine the future. Fast forward. How would you feel in 10 minutes after eating whatever you’re craving? Compare that to how you would feel 10 minutes after resisting that craving. That will help you make a decision that supports your goals and not just your immediate urges.
Practice these steps and see which one is most effective for you! Cravings will still come and go. But you might find that one or more of these tactics can help you stay in the driver’s seat when strong emotions pop up.