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Dealing With Emotional Eating

Woman emotionally eats donuts when she doesn't have a healthy coping mechanism for stress

So, you’ve had weight loss surgery.  It was going well initially, but that familiar and frequent hunger has crept back in.  Even though you KNOW your stomach is tiny, you find yourself snacking too often or making unhealthy food choices, and your progress is now suffering.  Chances are, you’re dealing with emotional hunger.  No surgery can fix that.  It’s something we must face and change in ourselves.  Thankfully, there are strategies to combat and deal with emotional eating.  Read on for some helpful tips in dealing with emotional hunger.

One of the first things we need to do is define what the triggers are for our emotional eating.  It could be stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, boredom, or even celebration.  We are pairing food with our feelings if we start to soothe our bad feelings, fill our boredom, or reward our wins with food!  That can lead to emotional eating.  For many of us, this could have begun in our childhoods.  That can make it hard to identify the underlying triggers because it feels so automatic.

The best way to identify your triggers is with a food journal.  You could even devote one, especially to emotional eating.  Each time you find yourself wanting to eat or having a craving, take a moment to jot down the time, what you’re currently doing, how you’re feeling, and what you’re craving.  Example: “10:15 AM, got an email from the boss with a new assignment, feeling anxious, craved cookies.”  That only takes a few seconds, but you will begin to learn your patterns over time.  Trends will emerge around the time of day, specific emotions, activities, and food types.  By understanding those trends, you can better strategize solutions.

Do you always seem to be snacking at your desk?  Always wanting sweets in the evening?  You want chips every time you’re feeling blue?  Those are all examples of emotional hunger.  They have nothing to do with our body needing fuel.  They have everything to do with unhealthy patterns we’ve built in our minds.  But, until you know the pattern is there, you can’t break it.

Thankfully, since emotional hunger is all mental, you’ll find that the feeling is quite fleeting.  Unlike physical hunger that only intensifies with time, emotional hunger should likely only last a few minutes and then fade away.  Knowing that is KEY to breaking the pattern.  Once you’ve identified your patterns, the next step is to develop a replacement strategy – something to do INSTEAD of eating.  You could go for a 5-minute walk to get away from your desk, listen to a song that puts you in a good mood, take a moment to meditate or read, etc.  The point is to choose something that works for YOU and that you will actually DO.  Try different strategies until you find the ones that work best for you, and then note those strategies in your journal.  That way, you can see which ones have been most successful.

With time and practice, you’ll notice emotional hunger will become less frequent and weaker.  As emotional eating decreases, your weight loss goals will get back on track.  Remember to be patient with yourself.  It took years to build these patterns.  They won’t disappear overnight, and no one is perfect.  We’ll all have moments of weakness where we slip up.  Forgive yourself and get back on track.  Even resisting emotional cravings one time out of 10 is still a step toward success!  You only fail if you stop trying.

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