If you struggle with emotional eating: stress eating, boredom eating, comfort eating, frustration eating, or any type of eating designed to help you cope with or avoid your feelings, you know it can be a difficult habit to break.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to identify that you struggle with emotional eating. Even after you’ve identified the feelings and situations that trigger overeating, it can be difficult to figure out what to do instead of eating when these situations arise.
You’re much more likely to successfully make lasting changes if you have a ready-made list of strategies that you can use when the urge to eat, snack, graze, or binge arises. Unfortunately, when faced with creating such a list, it’s pretty common to draw a blank.
What to do instead of something that comes so automatically? That can feel like a tough one, but don’t let that initial lack of ideas stop you.
If you’re trying to kick the emotional eating habit, make a list of ten things you can do instead when the feeling hits. Consider the different situations you might be in when emotional eating is triggered – context matters. What you can do instead of overeating at work is probably different than what you can do to avoid emotional eating in the evening.
Crafting a list of possible instead strategies requires openness and a willingness to experiment. It’s likely going to take some adjustments (and trial and error) to identify the unique combination of strategies that will work for you.
My tips for creating a list of what to do instead of emotional eating:
- Think simple and do-able. For a strategy to be successful, you don’t need to eliminate a craving or an urge completely, but you do want to a strategy that allows you to get through it without resorting to emotional eating.
- Consider both strategies that help you address the emotions you are feeling (stress, anxiety, loneliness, etc.), and, what I call “warm blanket strategies.” These are the strategies you can use when you can’t actively change the situation (maybe you’re stress eating at work and you have little control of the demands there) and you simply need some comfort to wrap up in (like a warm blanket). Warm blanket strategies provide comfort that isn’t food. For example, if you’re eating because you are lonely, active strategies would attack the loneliness. You might reach out to a friend or spend some time chatting online. A warm blanket strategy would be something kind that you could do for yourself out of compassion for how you are feeling—maybe taking time to read a favorite book or a nonfood indulgence like a warm bath or some new music for your walking playlist.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. To kick the emotional eating habit, you need to get out of the rut of doing things a certain way (turning to food). Consider any way that you can change things up—moving to a different room or location, changing the order of your routine, creating reminders of the new strategies that you want to try. Notice the things that help and keep building on them.
My bet is you’re looking for an emotional eating solution that lasts—what I call, peace with food. That’s different from a crash diet that starts with lots of motivation and then, well, crashes. The more you practice looking for what works for you, the more you’ll find solutions that you actually implement and stick with. It’s a process, that pays off big time.