How to Eat to Stop Emotional Overeating

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When you think of stopping emotional overeating, does it seem like an impossible goal? You’re not alone – many people who suffer from this problem feel imprisoned and helpless. It can seem like you are unable to break free from the overwhelming emotions and habits. But there’s good news – it’s a treatable problem.

Being honest with yourself is an important first step. Emotional overeaters tend to judge themselves pretty harshly, but don’t – you’re not an isolated case or some kind of freak. It’s a sign of strength to seek help! It means you’ve identified the problem.

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If you’re struggling with this problem, there are some things you can do to get things under control while you’re seeking professional help. Here are some tips.

Your Grocery List

When an emotional moment hits and you head for the refrigerator or pantry, what kind of foods do you usually go for? Often, emotional overeaters head for high-calorie comfort foods like ice cream, chips, or candy bars. But you can’t eat those things if they are not in your house! Here are some examples of foods to put on your grocery list in place of the ones you may be tempted to buy. (Another tip – buy only the foods on your list. Compulsive buying of food is tempting.)

  • Brown rice (instead of white rice)
  • Millet (instead of or in addition to rice)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (rather than canned)
  • Low-fat, low-calorie yogurt (rather than ice cream)
  • Popcorn kernels for air popping (rather than chips and fatty snacks)
  • Lean protein like fish, turkey, and chicken (instead of deli meats and processed meats like hotdogs and         bologna)
  • Natural, healthy cooking oils like olive and safflower oil (instead of shortening, lard, or unhealthy oils)

Don’t Crash Diet

It’s good to be proactive in solving problems, and emotional eating is no exception. If you try to crash diet, you may find yourself eating more after the crash diet is over. So, rather than stopping eating everything you love, try some of these tips.

  • Allow yourself to have a dish of frozen yogurt each week as a treat. This approach tends to be easier than just cutting out all frozen treats. You could use this approach with other “naughty” foods, too – it may be easier to resist if you know you are going to have that food on Saturday (or whatever day of the week you choose to have a small treat).

  • Boost your nutrition with a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement.

  • Increase your consumption of nutrient-dense foods.

Eat Regular Meals

Experts recommend regular mealtimes as a way to combat emotional overeating. If it’s not “time” for food, then you may be better able to hold off on eating until it is time. Also, eating regular meals helps you to be deliberate about your intake of nutritious foods. And finally, having regular meal times tends to make for a more relaxed eating experience, which is the direct opposite of anxiety-driven overeating.

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Alternative Therapies for Emotional Overeating

Emotional overeating can make a person feel imprisoned – it can seem like there is no way out of the cycle of feeling sad, angry, anxious and so forth, and then eating to alleviate the emotional pain. There are treatments that are available, though – some of them conventional and some of them alternative.

Conventional therapy, surgery, and medication have all been utilized at one time or another for the treatment of emotional overeating. There are, however, some alternative therapies that are worth exploring. Here are some of them.

Emotional overeating

Hypnosis

Because emotional overeating begins in the mind, hypnosis is said to be effective because it addresses the mind directly with the power of suggestion. Hypnosis is not the mumbo-jumbo stuff of cartoons and swinging pocket watches; it’s a clinical practice and many practitioners have used it with success to treat emotional overeating.

Meditation

The intent of meditation as a treatment for emotional overeating is to “tune in” to the emotional thought center that is driving your cravings and/or binge eating. Meditation, sometimes taking a form called “mindfulness,” is the opposite of mindLESSness, which is what often happens in emotional overeating. The person does not really think about what he or she is doing; it’s mindless eating.

Herbal Supplements

It seems like every time you turn around there’s a new herbal supplement promising to help you lose weight. But there are some herbs that can help with the issue of emotional overeating. Here are some of them.

  • Hoodia – This much-publicized herb is said to be effective at appetite suppression and boosting energy. Its effects tend to be subtle, and it also has a good safety record.
  • Vitex – This hormone-balancing herb for women may help those whose emotional overeating is influenced by hormone fluctuations.
  • Ginseng – This ancient herb is said to help sugar cravings and curb the compulsion to overeat in response to one’s emotions. Both American and Asian ginseng are purported to be equally effective.

Acupuncture

Acupuncturists are often asked if acupuncture can help with weight loss. The answer, in general, is yes – but not always. However, the good news is that acupuncture tends to be more successful with treating emotional overeating than just overeating. This may be due to acupuncture’s alleged ability to release endorphins and boost metabolism – making the client feel better emotionally, effectively curtailing the emotional overeating.

Nutrition

Interestingly, having the right balance of vitamins and minerals may affect emotional overeating – it’s not too much of a stretch to speculate that nutritional deficiencies could play a part in this kind of overeating. So make sure you’re not eating a lot of artificial, processed, pre-packaged foods; opt for fresh, whole foods as a general rule. It’s also a good idea to take a vitamin and mineral supplement that is formulated for your gender and life situation.

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Tips on Overcoming Emotional Overeating

Emotional overeating is almost a joke in our society – movies, TV shows, and the resulting stereotypes cause many of us to laugh about how much ice cream it takes to get over a boyfriend, or how much chocolate we need to overcome rejection. But for those who actually suffer from emotional overeating, it’s anything but funny.

First, it helps to be honest with yourself and identify if you have this problem or not. Here are some tips to help you know if you are an emotional over eater or not.

Emotional overeating

  1. Keep a food diary. In this diary, in addition to noting everything you eat, also note how you feel when you eat – sad, angry, upset, elated, joyful, etc. Don’t judge yourself or make any changes to your habits when you begin keeping this diary; you’re not trying to impress anyone or prove anything. You are trying to get an honest picture of your eating habits. After several weeks, a pattern will probably emerge.

  2. Are you under a lot of stress? Do you find that you gain weight when under stress? There are other factors that can come into play, of course, causing you to gain weight. But this is something to consider if you are trying to figure out if you have an emotional overeating problem or not.

  3. Get advice from a therapist or specialist if you really want to find out if you are a victim of emotional overeating.

How Can It Be Overcome?

If you have identified emotional overeating as something you suffer from, you may benefit from some tips on overcoming this problem. Here are some to consider.

  1. Seek stress relief

If you overeat in response to stress, it makes sense to find alternative ways to relieve and manage that stress. Meditation, Yoga, Pilates, martial arts, and other regular forms of exercise and relaxation techniques can help alleviate the stress that is triggering your overeating.

  1. Swap goodies for goodies

Try to find substitutions for the comfort foods or food rewards you seek when you are feeling positive or negative emotions. Having something in place already is key – keep a list handy or other reminder that will prompt you to turn to the alternative rather than the candy bar. (Some alone time, a short walk, reading a magazine or book for pleasure, doing your nails, etc. are all little emotional pick-me-ups that you can implement in place of food.)

  1. Why am I doing this?

Before eating, ask yourself why you are doing it. Do you feel genuinely hungry? If you’re truly hungry, you may feel fatigued and, of course, feel hunger in your stomach. Ask yourself if you really feel hungry or if you are seeking an energy boost or a calming effect instead.

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Weight Loss Surgery: Can It Help with Emotional Overeating?

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If you have trouble with emotional overeating, you may have considered weight loss surgery of some sort. But how do you know if it’s for you? What kinds of surgery options are available?

Here are some ideas as to the more common surgical options currently available and some of the better-known pros and cons associated with them.

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1. Lap-Band

This is a type of restrictive weight loss surgery, and it is adjustable. A silicon doughnut or ring is placed around the top of the stomach, leaving a small pouch above the ring. This is where the food goes first, and the pouch, being so small, fills up quickly. The person feels full on less food, in other words. Slowly, the food makes its way from the pouch into the main stomach.

The doctor or surgeon may, from time to time, inject saline into the ring in order to inflate it, thus decreasing the pouch’s capacity even further. The opposite can be done as well.

Pros:

  • It’s adjustable, as noted above – fluid can be removed or injected into the ring.
  • The digestive process is not compromised; food is digested “the usual way.”
  • The surgical procedure is usually done laproscopically, meaning it’s minimally invasive.

Cons:

  • Additional surgery may be required in the case of twisting of the access port or perforation of the stomach.
  • Weight loss tends to be rather slow and gradual, and not as dramatic as some other options.
  • Repeated follow-up visits with your doctor are required.

2. Gastric Bypass

This is what’s known as a malabsorptive technique. In gastric bypass surgery, a small pouch is created at the top of the stomach using “staples” rather than a ring. Then part of the small intestine is re-routed to connect to this pouch, essentially creating a permanently smaller stomach. It is called “bypass” surgery because food bypasses the rest of the stomach and the original small intestine connection, called the duodenum.

Pros:

  • Weight loss tends to be significant and permanent.
  • Mild side effects, such as heartburn, tend to be resolved easily.

Cons:

  • Compromised nutrient absorption is a significant concern, and patients are generally required to take many supplements to prevent nutritional deficiency.
  • Dumping syndrome, or a too-fast emptying of stomach contents, is a potentially difficult side effect.
  • It’s harder for doctors to view the stomach and intestine via endoscopy, meaning cancer and other problems may go undetected.

These are just two of the more common types of weight loss surgery. The bottom line is, weight loss surgery can help with the weight gain and excessive caloric intake associated with emotional overeating, but it does not address the underlying emotional issues. If you do choose some sort of surgery to treat emotional overeating, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s part of a “whole person” treatment plan that includes counseling and emotional therapy.

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Could Your Weight Gain Be the Result of Emotional Overeating?

Weight gain is frustrating enough, but when you can’t seem to identify the cause(s) of it, the frustration is compounded. Emotional overeating is a somewhat sneaky problem – because it can involve mindless eating, it’s the sort of thing that can occur without you realizing it.

If you are having trouble figuring out what’s causing your weight gain, here are some tips on identifying emotional overeating (as opposed to just overeating).

weight gain

Seemingly Unexplainable Weight Gain

If you are gaining weight and you can’t seem to figure out why, this is (ironically) a sign that the problem may lie with emotional overeating. As noted above, you often don’t know you’re doing it when it comes to emotional overeating. You may even be working out regularly and preparing healthy meals and still gaining weight, because you are mindlessly eating other foods when you feel negative emotions.

A Sudden Urge

Sources say that emotional “hunger” comes on quite suddenly, perhaps in the form of an irresistible craving for a certain food or just the urge to eat right now. True hunger is usually more gradual than that – unless you have low blood sugar or have gone a very long time without eating, true hunger does not usually take the form of an urgent need to eat a whole lot right away.

Depression

More and more the connection between emotional overeating and depression is being discovered. Do you feel depressed periodically? When you even think of feeling depressed, what goes through your mind? How do you cope? If you are picturing a big serving of your favorite comfort food, then this may be a sign that your overeating is emotion-based.

Stress

Are you going through a stressful time in your life simultaneous to your weight gain? Have you seen that pattern before? Stress, with its accompanying anxiety and other negative feelings, can trigger someone to overeat in response to those feelings.

Guilt

How do you feel after you eat? Are you consumed with guilt? Do you feel ashamed? These feelings are signs that you have a problem with emotional overeating. Normal eating to satisfy normal hunger does not make a person feel guilty.

Specific Cravings

As many parents know, genuine hunger usually means that you’re more open to various food options. In emotional overeating, though, cravings may be so specific that no other food will do to satisfy your “hunger.” You feel like you have to have that particular food to feel satisfied.

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