Moving away from emotional eating

July 01, 2014 By Carrie Lukens, Ph.D.

Emotional eating is a common sabotage to weight loss efforts. Many people turn to food to cope with emotions including stress, boredom, sadness, anxiety, and loneliness. For most, this habit was developed in childhood.

For example, if you had a bad day at school, perhaps your mom baked cookies. You accomplished something great? It's ice cream to celebrate.

With food linked to emotions from childhood, emotional eating can be hard to break. It's not impossible to change but does take hard work and patience.

The first step to changing this habit is to identify emotional triggers that send you scouring the cupboards. Then, identify alternative methods to cope. If stress is a major culprit, find strategies to cope with stress. Take mini mental breaks throughout the day to decrease your overall stress level. Relax in the car five minutes before you walk into the house. And when you find yourself searching the refrigerator, stop and think about what other activity you can do to manage whatever emotion you are experiencing.

If you feel sad and lonely, reach out to a friend or family member or find an online community or support group. If you're feeling anxious, take time to identify what's causing the anxiety and find solutions for how to manage the issue. By taking time to pause, identify the emotion, and find an alternative coping strategy, you can help improve your weight loss efforts.

Consider reaching out to a professional or join a weight loss program or support group to help manage emotional eating. You're not alone in trying to change your relationship with food. Remember, changing a lifetime habit takes patience and perseverance. Don't give up and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Clinical psychologist Carrie Lukens works at Center for Metabolic Health, 11 South Road, Farmington; 888.456.7546. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 800.321.6244.