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5 tips to help manage emotional eating while trying to lose weight

Ways to change your eating habits and break the emotional eating cycle

5 tips to help manage emotional eating while trying to lose weight
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When life feels overwhelming or stressful, we can turn to food for comfort — there's a reason why we refer to certain foods as 'comfort food'.

Eating food for relief or solace is also known as emotional eating and it doesn't usually involve a need to satisfy physical hunger but rather emotional distress.

If this sounds like something you've experienced, you might be looking for a way to manage feelings of emotional hunger — especially if you're on a weight loss journey. This is where we come in.

We've created a handy guide to help you manage emotional eating and steps to take when you feel like you're responding to certain uncomfortable emotions with food.

What causes emotional eating?

Food does a great job at quelling physical hunger but it can also be used to soothe emotional stressors and can act as a means of distraction.

People often engage in stress eating when they're feeling sad, lonely, bored, overwhelmed or depressed. These are all emotions that can often lead to ‘food noise’, a constant mental chatter about food. For some people, this chatter becomes so loud and out of their control, that it doesn’t just contribute to the vicious cycle of emotional eating, but it ends up significantly impacting other aspects of their day-to-day lives.

In some cases, food can also be used as a reward, which also falls into the emotionally-related eating patterns.

When you're on a weight loss journey but also engage in stress-related eating, this can create a cycle of guilt and shame that pushes you into a negative space and can further trigger emotional eating.

How to manage emotional eating triggers

There are a number of strategies you can implement to help manage emotional eating.

It's important to note that emotional eating can also be linked to eating disorders and if this feels like something you're dealing we, please seek assistance from a mental health professional.

For those who are trying to change their eating habits while on a weight loss journey, here are ways to help break the emotional eating cycle.

1. Examine your hunger

When you start feeling hungry enough that you want to eat, try asking yourself whether it feels physical or emotional.

An emotional food craving is often for a specific food — like chocolate — and it will usually occur when you want to quieten a particular feeling or emotion by eating.

If you recently ate and you don't feel physical hunger pangs, you're probably not hungry and the hunger is actually emotional.

The distinction between the two forms of hunger you can experience are:

  • Physical hunger usually builds up over a period of time and causes a physical feeling like a rumbling stomach.
  • Emotional hunger pops up quickly and often includes a fixation on a specific food.

Regularly checking in with your hunger levels and noting whether it feels physical or emotional can help make it easier for you to make a conscious decision to only engage with the former versus the latter.

2. Try a food diary

Jotting down what you eat over the course of a day can be helpful in identifying the habits you may have around food.

In fact, a food diary can show your behaviour and the connection you experience between food intake, your mood and the situation you're in at the time.

When filling in your diary at each meal or snack time, try noting the following points:

  • How much did you eat?
  • How hungry did you feel?
  • How were you feeling emotionally?
  • What was going on at the time?
  • Where were you when you ate?

3. Evaluate your environment

Now is a good time to have a look around at your environment and if you have a particular food that you turn to for emotional comfort when you're stressed, try to keep it out of the house and don't add it to your trolley during your weekly grocery shop.

While moderation is key and that includes consuming a balance of all foods, it can be difficult if you're trying to lose weight.

While you are making a concerted effort to change your eating habits and engage in regular exercise in order to lose weight and improve your health, it can be helpful to avoid purchasing the foods you eat when you're stressed.

4. Ask yourself a few questions

Before diving into a meal when you first feel hungry, try asking yourself a couple of questions to help deduce what type of hunger you're experiencing.

Are you feeling angry?

If so, try taking some time away from the situation. Call a friend or family member, take a breath and try to centre yourself.

Are you feeling tired or thirsty?

Have you had enough sleep recently? Are you drinking enough water? Both of these factors can play a role in feelings of emotional hunger.

Are you bored?

Try distracting yourself with a new behaviour instead of diving into the pantry.

Are you feeling stressed?

If you're feeling stressed, try engaging with stress relief activities like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation. It could also be helpful to look at ways you might be able to reduce stress in your day-to-day life.

Are you hungry?

If so, it's time to eat! Choose high protein and low GI meals that will help keep you feeling fuller for longer and help keep cravings at bay.

5. Reassess your thoughts

If you have a moment of stress eating, don't be hard on yourself. It might feel like a step back for your weight loss but it's only a small bump in the road.

Weight loss isn't linear and practising forgiveness and kindness towards yourself is important.

Instead of looking at this as something that went wrong, try to view it as a way to learn more about your eating habits. Try answering the following questions to gain a little more clarity:

  • What was the situation that led to emotional eating?
  • How did you feel? What were your thoughts at the time?
  • How did you feel after?
  • Is there a more positive way of viewing the situation?

Overcoming emotional eating

If you're experiencing emotional eating while trying to lose weight, Juniper's Nourish Shakes might prove helpful for you.

These meal replacement shakes help you achieve long-lasting weight loss with the nutritional benefit of a balanced meal. With 20 vitamins and minerals in each glass and 29.5 grams of protein, these are a high-quality meal substitute that can help keep you fuller for longer.

You can choose from three delicious flavours — Chocolate, Vanilla and Espresso — and know that you're receiving more than 40 per cent of your daily vitamin needs for immunity and overall health as well as a good source of fibre.

If you consume two shakes per day, which is the Rapid weight loss plan, it's normal to lose up to two kilos a week for the first four to six weeks and 0.8 kilos each week beyond [1].

The Steady weight loss plan, which involves combining a low-calorie diet with one shake per day, can help you lose four per cent of your body weight in 12 weeks [2].

When to seek professional help

Emotional eating can be a part of a larger issue with disordered eating and there's no shame in reaching out for help.

Seeking the support of a healthcare professional is the best way to go as they can teach you ways to manage emotional eating behaviours and how to create a new relationship with food.

If you or someone you know needs help with emotional eating, reach out to the Butterfly Foundation.

It’s more than just weight loss

Thousands of Australian women have found new confidence with Juniper.

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