Break the cycle of emotional eating

June 18, 2020

By Terri Simonton, Clark Memorial Health dietitian Emotional eating

If you are an emotional eater, then you’re not alone. Many times we grab comfort foods, which may be high in fat and added sugars, to help us feel better when dealing with stress or boredom. Staying home quarantining adds to the temptation to snack. What’s really happening in our brains and bodies when we want to eat our feelings?

When you feel anxious or stressed, your central nervous system produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in response. Your body then reacts and is ready for action – the fight-or-flight reaction. Your heart rate and breathing may increase and your blood pressure can rise.

Cortisol particularly has an effect on your appetite. It drives you to seek to bring your stress level down, increases your desire for high-energy (read: high-fat and high-sugar) foods, and suppresses your brain’s signals of fullness.

Dietitian Terri Simonton

When the anxiety or stressful situation has passed, hormone levels should return to normal. However, if you constantly feel anxious, stressed, or under attack, then that fight-or-flight reaction stays on. Being in a chronic state of stress like this will have a negative effect on your health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “the long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, such as anxiety, depression, [and] weight gain.”

We can break the cycle of emotional eating by learning healthy ways to cope with life stressors. Here are 10 suggestions you can try today.

Stress management strategies:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get regular exercise and plenty of sleep
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Read, listen to music, take time for hobbies
  • Seek professional counseling if needed

Ideas to overcome eating out of boredom:

  • Work on home improvements
  • Get outside and enjoy nature
  • Ride a bike
  • Walk the dog
  • Read a book

Imagine how great you would feel to master emotional eating. Everyone is different, so try a variety of strategies to see what works best for you.