5 Ways to Shift From Emotional Eating to Mindful Eating

Woman eating pasta while scrolling phone.

When we have a stressful day, feel depressed, or are just plain bored, these negative feelings can spark a significant obstacle in our weight loss progress: emotional eating. It’s common to use eating as a coping mechanism to relieve anxiety, sadness, or other types of pain. 

Emotional eating can make you feel better briefly, but it isn’t a lasting remedy for your underlying problems. The weight gain associated with it combined with the avoidance of real issues in your life can leave you feeling hopeless.

Do you suspect you’re an emotional eater and feel you need to change this destructive behavior? With patience, you can overcome emotional eating, shift to more mindful eating, and develop a better relationship with food.

Why Is Emotional Eating So Harmful?

Emotional eating can trap you in a vicious cycle of stress, loneliness, or anger. It can also lead to weight gain and chronic health problems, including type 2 diabetes and depression. This can lead to food binges and feelings of lost control. Emotional eating doesn’t solve problems; it creates more of them.

The first step towards overcoming emotional eating is acknowledging your bad habits. Ask yourself: can you tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger? Physical hunger comes from the stomach and is satisfied once you are full. Emotional hunger comes from a more ambiguous place. You may not be able to identify your exact feelings, but you know you want to eat. 

Five Key Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating

Once you’re clear that your overeating is being driven by emotions, you can begin to deal with it. Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Question Your Intentions

When the desire to eat something strikes, ask yourself whether you are hungry or if you are feeling emotions that need attention in another way. If the latter is the case, try a new behavior. Instead of eating, take a nature walk, do some gentle stretches, read a book, or call a friend. 

2. Take Small Steps

Train yourself not to eat when you’re emotional. Make a conscious decision to stay away from food when you’re feeling stressed or emotionally drained. Tell yourself that after you have thought about the situation rationally, you can decide whether to eat or not.

When the urge to snack hits you, nibble on a vegetable or fruit. Or take five minutes to drink some water. If you feel satisfied by this small gesture, congratulate yourself. Then treat yourself to something special but healthy later on. Little by little, this will build up your motivation for further progress.

3. Keep a Journal

Document the actions that trigger your eating. Journal what you eat each day and the emotions you had when you ate. Was there a specific event that occurred? If so, write it down. Soon, you’ll discover associations between the urge to snack and your thoughts and feelings.

4. Renew Your Focus on Health

Shift your focus toward improving your health and give your mind a new focus or goal. For example, if you want to maintain or lose weight, start a walking program. Going for a walk is a distraction technique that shifts your mind away from eating. 

Think about the bigger picture and the long-term implications of your food choices. For example, if you eat too much sugar, you risk gaining weight or becoming diabetic. Then consider the benefits that adopting a healthy lifestyle will afford you. This will give you more motivation to keep pursuing your newfound goals.

5. Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be quite effective at curbing emotional eating. It helps you change the thought patterns that trigger overeating. You’ll learn to replace those thoughts of snacking with more productive thoughts. 

If you choose to pursue cognitive behavioral therapy, choose a therapist who specializes in emotional eating. Make sure the professional you choose is licensed and certified in your state. A good therapist will help you understand why you’re reaching for food to feel better and teach you how to change this habit. 

Turn Your Emotional Eating Into Mindful Eating

Conquering emotional eating takes time and practice. But by taking small steps, you can often change your thought patterns and overcome the problem on your own. It may take weeks or even a few months of journaling and questioning your motives for eating. Gradually, a change will come, and you will have successfully become a more mindful eater!

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