During stressful or overwhelming days, it can be easy to turn to food to help us cope. We start craving comfort foods and indulgent snacks but usually feel guilty or even more stressed. Munch more mindfully with these strategies to help overcome emotional eating.

Check Your Hunger

As you experience a comfort food craving, check in with your hunger cues. If your go-to method of coping with stressful situations has been food for longer than you can remember, it can be hard to differentiate real hunger from emotional hunger. Take a moment to ask yourself if your body is physically hungry. Try delaying the snack or sipping water to see if the hunger subsides or continues. Also, ask yourself if your craving is for a specific food item. If your craving is specific, it can indicate emotional hunger. Checking your hunger before eating allows you to eat more mindfully. You may also notice that you still feel hungry after emotionally eating. While real hunger can be physically satisfied by eating, emotional hunger is rarely satisfied since you’re not addressing the root of the feelings.

Food Journal

Consider keeping a food journal to help you better understand your hunger cues and habits with stress management. As you journal about your food intake, write down what you eat along with other detailed factors like the time of day, how you felt before and after, any emotions you were experiencing, and your hunger level. Acknowledging and exploring these aspects of your food choices and eating patterns is the first step in overcoming stress eating habits. It helps put a stop to mindlessly grabbing food and instead encourages a more intentional approach to eating. Seeing patterns between our emotions and food intake allows us to make healthier choices.

Make Healthier Options More Convenient

During an overwhelming day, it is typically not our first thought to stop and make a healthy snack to fuel our day. Instead, we choose whatever is quick, easy, or already in front of us. Aim to make healthier options more convenient ahead of time. Have fruit and vegetables washed and cut so they can be quickly grabbed and eaten. Keep a stock of nutrient-dense snacks at your desk or in a break room. Bring a bottle of water wherever you go to stay hydrated. Whenever you make nutritious choices more easily accessible, you choose them more often when your thoughts are preoccupied, exhausted, or stressed. It can also help you clarify hunger levels to limit mindless or emotional eating.

Find Lasting Stress Relievers

Emotional eating is a common coping choice for stress, but it rarely, if ever, provides lasting relief. All too often, it leads to poor or unbeneficial nutrition habits instead. Practicing healthy coping strategies for managing stress and emotions can retrain our body’s go-to choices during difficult situations. Before reaching for a snack, try several rounds of a deep breathing exercise, a quick mindfulness activity, a short meditation, or listen to a relaxing song. These healthier coping habits provide a mental break so you can respond to the situation instead of reacting to it. It also gives you time to understand your body’s cues between hunger, exhaustion, boredom, and other emotions. The more you practice these strategies regularly, the less likely your body will choose food as a knee-jerk response. It allows you to acknowledge and manage emotions more healthily while staying on track with your wellness goals.

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