Are you an emotional eater?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
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Getty Images

Do you turn to food when you're feeling angry, depressed or bored? Here's how to separate food and mood for good.

Why do we do it?
Most women are guilty of eating for reasons other than hunger, which is known as emotional eating. Psychologist and author Dr Elizabeth Celi says: "Food is so accessible and easily re-directs our attention from emotional distress onto the food to give us a form of comfort."

We are most likely to turn to food when we are feeling stressed, hormonal, angry, bored, lonely, anxious, nervous, depressed, tired or frustrated.

What triggers it?
"Emotional hunger signals are all too easily mistaken for actual hunger signals," Dr Celi says. A stressful situation at work could make us reach for the family pack of chocolate, we might turn to chips when nervous at the beginning of a party, or a lonely evening at home could result in us spooning ice-cream straight from the tub.

What do we eat?
During moments of emotional eating, most people want unhealthy comfort foods. These are usually high in kilojoules or in sugar, fat or salt content. In an emotionally difficult situation, women are most likely to grab chocolate, biscuits and lollies, while men will probably dive into chips and pizza.

Are you emotionally eating?
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you are guilty of being an emotional eater:

  • Do you sometimes snack without realising it?
  • Do you reward yourself with junk food after a stressful day?
  • Do you think about food when you're sad?
  • Do you feel guilty after overeating?
  • Do you snack when you're not actually hungry?
  • Do you find yourself eating just for something to do?

How do you break the habit?
If you think you're an emotional eater, there are plenty of ways to get back in control of your diet. Here are a few ideas:

1. Identi-vibe: Try and understand if you eat because you're stressed or angry, or if you turn to food when you're sad or bored. If it's the former, do intense activities such as listening to loud music or going for a run. If it's the latter, ask your loved one for a cuddle or take a walk along the beach.

2. Resist and desist: "Ask yourself, am I really hungry or am I 'craving' satisfaction in another situation? Then act accordingly," Dr Celi says.

3. Find eating buddies: Talk to your friends and ask if they are emotional eaters too. If they are, use each other as a support network and reach for the phone instead of the chocolate.

4. Write it down: Keeping a food diary will help you realise when you are most likely to turn to snacking. When you feel those times coming on, distract yourself.

5. Work it out: Regular exercise helps keep your attitude positive and will cut down emotional eating moments.

6. Have a snooze: "Fatigue brings out the worst in us, our discipline wall goes down and we're more vulnerable to emotional reactions and junk food," Dr Celi says. So try to get enough sleep.

7. Get a hobby: If you have alternative activities to eating, you won't go for the junk food so fast. Start an exercise class, paint your nails or clean out your linen cupboard.

8. Alterna-nibble: If you must snack, go for something healthy. Replace chips with carrot batons and ice cream with yoghurt.

Your say: Are you an emotional eater?

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