How to change Emotional Eating?


It’s been a bad day at work. The kids have been acting up all day. You’re stressed. How do you deal with it? Maybe by gobbling an extra piece of fried chicken? Or reaching into the bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television? Perhaps by snuggling up with a container of ice cream and spoon in bed? We’ve all caught ourselves giving in to emotional eating.


And yet we also know that we can’t lose weight without limiting the calories that pass our lips. So how do you move beyond the urge to use food to fix feelings of anxiety, anger, or frustration? And how do you keep your kids from falling into the same trap?


Emotional eating tends to be a habit, and like any habit can be broken. It may be hard, especially if you’ve been doing it for a long time, but it is possible.


Weight problems often run in families, so the easiest way to tackle emotional eating is together as a family. You can’t expect an overweight child to stop binge-eating snacks and junk food when other people in the household are eating them.


Here are four tips to help you and your family stop using food as an emotional fix.


1. Make your house healthy.


Start with the obvious: If there is no junk food in the house, you can’t binge on it. Instead, keep unprocessed, low-calorie, low-fat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, and unbuttered popcorn around for munching. And remember that they’re not just for your kids. Set a good example for them by trying and enjoying healthier options.


Take a look at your refrigerator and pantry and cut down on your go-to temptations.


Before you go grocery shopping, take a breather, go for a walk, and wait until your emotions are in check.


2. Figure out what’s triggering emotional eating.


The next time you reach for comfort food, ask yourself, “Why do I want this candy bar? Am I really hungry?” If not, try to figure out what emotions you are feeling. Are you stressed, angry, bored, scared, sad, lonely? A food diary — a written record of what, how much, and when you eat — may help you see patterns in how mood affects what you choose to eat.


Check in with how your kids are feeling, too. If you’re aware of the social and emotional issues they are facing, it will help you guide them to make better choices when dealing with their emotions without eating. Find out what’s going on in their personal lives. Ask about school, friends, and how they feel. Do they feel good or bad about the way life is going?


When times get tough, it helps to have some go-to healthy ways to handle stress. You and your kids can try deep breathing, going for a walk, or listening to music.


Sometimes, an outside perspective can give you an “aha!” moment that lights the path for change. If you’re having trouble controlling your emotional eating, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a mental health professional. Although professional counseling or psychotherapy might not be comfortable for elementary school children, it can help you or older kids figure out what’s behind emotional eating and offer help for eating disorders.



3.  Find satisfying alternatives.


Once you figure out why food makes you feel better, you can come up with alternative behaviors that can help you cope instead of emotional eating. Frustrated because you feel like you’re not in control? Go for a walk on a path you choose. Hurt by a co-worker’s mean comments? Take it out on a punching bag, or make a plan for how you’re going to talk it out. Bored? Distract yourself by calling a friend or surfing the Internet.


If you deny yourself all treats, that can lead to cravings and binge eating. Instead, allow yourself to have your favorite foods occasionally and in smaller portions. Limit the amount of chips or candy by putting a few in a small bowl instead of mindlessly eating them out of the bag.


Keep the focus on fun and feeling good so that new, healthier habits are easier to adopt. A study in a British health journal showed that teenagers were more likely to take a walk when they heard that it would make them feel good than when they heard it was the healthy thing to do.



4.  Celebrate success.


Focus on the positive changes you are making, one step at a time. You’ll get better results with encouragement than with harsh criticism. For example, praise your child when he takes only one cookie out of the box instead of a handful.


Changing an emotional eating habit is a process. Some backsliding will happen, so acknowledge when it does and use it as a chance to plan how you’ll deal with the same situation in the future.


Successes are sweeter when you can share them. Celebrate a week of healthy eating as a family by taking a walk in the woods, having a swim night, or going skating together. When you work together to build better eating habits, the support you can offer each other and the rewards you enjoy can be priceless.


WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on June 18, 2018


“Parents typically don’t get enough sleep and spend their days constantly responding to needs of another human being,” says Dominique Wakefield, a personal trainer and wellness coach based in Berrien Springs, MI. “That combination is emotionally and physically draining, which leads to less motivation for physical activity.”


It’s easy to put exercise on your “wouldn’t it be nice” list, but fitness is too important to keep on the back burner.


“There are so many health benefits that come from being physically active, like reducing your risk for chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but it’s especially important for parents to stay fit,” Wakefield says. “Plus, working out can give you more energy and reduce stress — extra benefits that parents especially need.”


Another reason to be an active parent: You’ll set a great example for your kid. “Children learn behavior by what they see around them, and it starts early,” Wakefield says. “So when kids see their parents exercise, they become likelier to be active as adults.”


Try these four tricks to tap into some surprising sources of motivation, making it easier than ever to reach your fitness goals.


Become an early bird. Willpower isn’t an unlimited resource — the more you use it throughout the day, the less you have left at night to force yourself to go to the gym. That’s why some people get in their workouts in the morning, when their drive is at its maximum levels.


And that’s not the only reason to become a morning exerciser. “If you wait until later in the day, it’s a lot likelier that things will pop up and get in the way of working out,” Wakefield says. “Your kids go to bed early, so do the same. That way you can wake up and work out, knowing that you’ve already done something for yourself that day.”


Get other people involved. “Parents love family time, which is why that often gets priority over exercising,” Wakefield says. Combine the two and you’ll be motivated to move since you’re doing something you love — spending time with your kids. There are a lot of physical activities that are good for all ages. Go play Frisbee in the park, play tag, go on a bike ride, or work in the garden.


If you want to do something that isn’t kid-friendly, find a friend who likes the same things you do, like running or spinning. “It provides accountability,” Wakefield says. “You won’t want to let the other person down by not showing up to exercise. Plus, chatting with a friend makes working out more enjoyable!”


Set smaller goals. “Most of the time, people don’t work out because it seems like an intimidating, daunting task,” says Erin McGill, senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “But you don’t have to spend an hour at the gym to be active — there are lots of little ways to make everyday activities and chores just a little harder. And it’s so much easier to fit 10 minutes of movement into your day every few hours than find a larger chunk of time in your schedule.”


A few ideas: Take one bag of groceries in at a time from the car, do sets of 10 squats or pushups in between loads of laundry, or take stairs two at a time to get your heart rate up.


Keep equipment front and center. Sometimes a simple thing like putting your workout gear in your living room can be key to feeling more motivated.


“Out of sight, out of mind is true, but so is the opposite,” Wakefield says. “Put things like resistance bands or an exercise ball in a visible place, and you’ll get that extra nudge to actually use them. Every time you see them, you’ll get reminded.”


WebMD Feature | Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD on May 31, 2016