Is Emotional Eating Making You Gain Weight Without You Realising?

Stop using food as an emotional crutch and you'll find yourself eating healthier and losing weight without needing to diet

If you ate some yummy chocolate or tasty crisps today because you were stressed out or miserable, then join the crowd. An estimated 70 per cent of people emotionally eat.

But though you probably found that bit of relief from ‘comfort’ food, it more than likely turned to guilty feelings of why did I eat that?

Many of us are consuming HALF of our weekly calorie intake during weekend binges [Rex]
Many of us are consuming HALF of our weekly calorie intake during weekend binges [Rex]

When it comes to dieting, over 90 per cent of dieters fall off the diet-wagon due to emotional eating. Good intentions usually flounder because people don’t recognise the power of emotional ‘triggers’.

Triggers are the people or situations that cause you stress, unhappiness, upset, feelings of rejection or countless other tricky emotions – that see you reaching for the biscuits.

Learning to react positively to triggers means you don’t react by emotional eating. Fire up your willpower to tackle your triggers with five these steps:

1. Identify Triggers:
Spend the next couple days noting why you eat beyond meals that fuel your energy needs. How often do you treat yourself to food to make you feel better. Keep it simple and include what the trigger was, how it made you feel, and what it made you eat.

2. Get Specific:
If it was your manager making extra demands or your new boyfriend/girlfriend going silent for a day or two, what did you think when seeking comfort in snacks? Was it: I’m too stressed to cope with extra work? Or: I’m not good enough for him/her? What negative messages do you tell yourself?

3. Start Coping:
Challenge those negative messages and get practical with your response. If stressed and overworked start saying ‘no’ to extra responsibilities and delegate where you can, etc.

Or if feeling unloved by that new boyfriend/girlfriend (or a longer-term partner) take more control. Remind yourself why you’re lovable, focus on your three best qualities, speak up when you need more attention or sound out a new partner to make sure you are happy with where things are going. You have a right to do these things.

4. Food and Feelings:
Presently you have a love-hate relationship with food - you long for that extra snack but hate yourself for having it.

When hit by tricky feelings from a trigger, put in place an emotionally healthy reaction. For instance, ring that person who lifts your mood, go out in the fresh air, and remind yourself of the good things in your life - a cup-half-full attitude helps see you through.

5. Learn from Triggers

As you get to know your triggers you get to know yourself better. Look at the bigger picture and which areas of your life are working and which need changing. Making changes now brings big benefits in the long term.

While learning to manage your triggers it’s helpful to use appetite control techniques. These aren’t about restriction and dieting. Instead, it's all about changing your eating behaviours so you can modify excessive eating due to stress, unhappiness and other emotions out of your control.

You can also use appetite control techniques to help keep you on the healthy eating trail.

Cool blue - Serving food on plates of cool mid-blue moderates appetite - these shades help to switch of your hunger.

Size matters – Eat your main course off a smaller plate because it tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating a bigger portion. Use larger plates for salads.

Control your portions - When unhappy, many serve themselves larger portions - probably larger than needed. If you know you do this remove one quarter of it and add a glass of water.

Time limit - ‘Time-limit’ how long you lounge in your kitchen. Clean up straight after meals and put leftovers away so you don’t start picking.

Post your photo - Stick a photo of you from a happy and healthy time on the fridge door and food cupboards to remind yourself not to reach for extra helpings/snacks.

Keep it hot - Feeling a bit too warm dampens down appetite. Make the designated place you eat in also the hottest - where the sun shines or next to the radiator.

Form a good habit - Always eat at that place. The habit of sitting at the same place for meals means less grazing-on-the-go.

Mint helps control your appetite (REX)
Mint helps control your appetite (REX)

Share - Sharing as many meals as possible with family/friends keeps you emotionally connected and that means you’re generally happier.

Mirror, mirror - Place a mirror where you eat because when you watching yourself eat you eat less.

TV snacking ban - Don’t ‘telly-snack’ particularly if stressed as your mind switches off and your emotional eating takes off. Before you know it you’ve finished a family-sized bag of crisps.

Miracle of mint - Mint flavour helps control appetite so have mint tea between meals to help control snacking. Also finish a meal with mint tea to stop those post-meal dessert cravings.

Magic measures - When allowing yourself a treat/snack measure out your portion. I use a ramekin for measuring portions of muesli to fuel my energy needs during the day.

Slow down - Slow down your chewing-pace helps manage portion control. Research shows your appetite naturally switches off within about 15-20 minutes of starting to chew.

Keep it small - Cutting food into small bite-sized chunks slows down your eating too - helping with the above tip.

Musical influences - Soothing music calms frazzled nerves making you less likely to over eat. Plus playing slow tunes slows down your eating pace.

Boring meals - Those who regularly eat the same meals lose weight more quickly because of food-boredom. They're less likely to want second helpings of something they have all the time.

If you feel you need more help, my book takes things a step further, covering all the crucial areas of your life, personality, emotions, upbringing, and many other things, all of which affect your emotional eating.

By Dr Pam Spurr is a self-help expert and author of The Emotional Eater's Diet: How to understand your emotions and become a healthy weight for life!

Find Dr Pam on twitter @drpamspurr.