How to Stop Emotional Eating
By Dana Leigh Smith
You open the refrigerator door and start mindlessly noshing on last night’s leftovers. Then, like a well-rehearsed dance, you move on to the freezer for “a taste” of ice cream.
Except it’s not just a taste. Ten minutes and 1,000 calories later, you’ve demolished the entire carton—and it’s not even because you’re famished. You’re just bored. Sound like a familiar scenario? Don’t be ashamed; we’ve all been there at one time or another. It’s when mindless munching becomes a habit that it can derail your weight loss efforts—and we’re here to help you avoid that.
To help you stay on track toward your better body goal, we checked in with some of the nation’s top diet and weight loss experts to find out the best ways to avoid eating when you’re bored. Follow a few of the tips you feel would work best for you and you’ll be sure to reach your flat-belly goal in no time.
“If you have nothing to do and your blood sugar is low, you're subconsciously going to want to reach for something sugary to get that quick jolt,” explains Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life. “Even if you're not hungry, you will keep thinking about food if you need a blood sugar boost.” Stop those hard-to-resist cravings before they even start by eating a meal or snack that combines protein and healthy fats every four hours. These two nutrients keep blood sugar stable, which is paramount to overcoming mindless munching.
Next time you find yourself wandering into the kitchen for any reason other than a rumbling belly, find something to do that doesn’t involve food. “Anything that will take your mind off of food is worth trying,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “Go for a walk, work on a craft, talk on the phone or take a warm bath.” Bjork agrees, suggesting you “take a 20 minute nap, do a quick workout. Any activity that you enjoy—and cannot be done with food in your mouth—is fair game.”
If the urge to nosh strikes while you're at office, it may not be possible step out for a walk. Instead, focus on keeping your mouth occupied when you’re bored. “Always keep water within arm's reach,” suggests Bjork. “This will keep you from having to go into the kitchen—where the temptation lives—to fill up your cup. Thirst is often confused as hunger, so after you have a glass of water, give your body some time to process it. If you're still stuck on the idea of food fifteen minutes later, you may actually be hungry.”
Fixing a cup of tea can also be beneficial. “Because tea is hot, you have to sip it slowly. This gives you time to center your thoughts and think about whether you're actually hungry. And, if you're not, it gives you time to think about some alternatives to eating,” Willow Jarosh MS, RD, co-owner of C&J Nutrition explains.
Ward off unnecessary noshing—and the subsequent weight gain—while simultaneously brightening your smile. “If you feel like you just want to eat something simply because it's in front of you, try brushing your teeth,” suggests Lakatos Shames. “Often the clean mint flavor is just what you need to distract your taste buds and prevent you from wanting to eat. You could also try whitening your teeth when the urge to munch strikes. It’s nearly impossible to eat while the whitening strips are on your teeth.”
Though you may think that strong willpower is a necessary trait to overcome down-time grazing, experts say that your success is more dependent on your food environment than anything else. “If you happen to get bored and there is nothing but healthy food available in your house, you likely won’t choose to eat it unless you're actually hungry,” says Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN of Neily on Nutrition. Most people don’t have the urge to eat celery sticks because they have nothing else going on. Cookies, however, are a different story. Heather Mangieri, RDN agrees, adding, “You can’t eat what’s not there, so make sure when you open the pantry you aren’t tempted with the sugary, salty, fatty foods that most people choose when eating ‘just to eat.’ Instead, stock your refrigerator with fresh vegetable slices and healthy whole foods that will be easier to pass on if you’re not really hungry."
If you can’t image kicking all of your indulgences out of the kitchen for good, spend the extra money for individually portioned snacks. “This ensures you stop after one serving and don’t fall totally off the bandwagon if really can’t say no,” says Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN.
Get right to the source of the issue and beat boredom for good! To make it happen, Jarosh suggests making a ‘bored list’ and posting it on the fridge. This way every time you go to the kitchen you’ll have a reminder of all things you can do instead of eating. A good list might include things like painting your nails, reading a magazine or book or calling a friend to catch up, she adds. “For many people, reaching for food is a deep-seated habit and it takes an outside reminder like a visible list to snap us out of it!”