Ever find yourself looking in the refrigerator for something to eat when you’re not really hungry?
How about those times you looked in that same fridge for a snack when you never would have gotten dressed, revved up the car, and drove to the supermarket for one?
And then there are those times when you can’t find something to eat even though the fridge is filled with food.
Maybe you’re only looking for food to fill in or take the place of some emotional component that’s lacking in your life at that moment. Maybe you’re just looking for something pleasant on a particular day or night when you find it hard to feel satisfied or content or happy or, well, anything.
Call it what you like — stress eating, emotional eating, etc. — the point is that it can be hard to recognize. Heck, it can be hard to even acknowledge it in ourselves. And what’s worse, it can feel overwhelming to just think about quitting emotional eating and getting oneself back to the health benefits of watching what, when, and why we eat.
But there is a bright side. We don’t have to turn to food to satisfy or replace emotional needs if we have alternatives — healthy alternatives. We’ve laid out a few tips below that have proven successful for a number of people who struggle with emotional eating. This goes for people who have had weight-loss surgery and those who have not.
What Is ‘Emotional Eating’?
Is emotional eating or emotional hunger real things — like, medically recognized things?
Oh, yeah, they’re real. They can make us eat when we’re already feeling full. They can lead to eating disorders, binge eating, and feeling the urge to eat empty calories, such as packaged snacks, ice cream, and candy, rather than healthy, nutrition-rich foods.
This in turn can lead to more binge eating, since these empty calories ultimately neither satisfy our cravings nor nourish our bodies. (More on this in Tip #3 below.)
“Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness,” writes the Mayo Clinic. “Major life events or, more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts.”
Triggers can include work-related stress, relationship stress, mental health struggles, financial challenges, fatigue, and much more. These can lead the susceptible to unhealthy eating habits. These habits derail efforts at weight management or weight control. They lead to an increase in body fat and a subsequent decrease in healthy physical activity, diet, and exercise.
After all, one needs fuel — good, healthy natural fuel — to be at our best. This goes for work, family life, and exercise, whether that’s walking, jogging, or playing tennis. Neglecting to engage in these activities further prevents us from losing weight or at least maintaining a healthy weight.
How to Tame Emotional Eating
Nearly everyone has triggers that prompt emotional eating. For some, it could be a bad day at work. For others, it could be the desire to celebrate something.
But for those who have undergone weight loss surgery, eating too much can damage their recovery. It’s especially important for post-bariatric patients to develop a strategy to cope with the emotions that lead to overeating.
Here are some tips that should provide some answers regarding what to do instead of emotional easting.
Tip #1: Minimize stress
Do you ever feel like you’re being pulled in every direction? This can happen when you’re too busy.
For instance, you’ll feel emotional stress. If the stress goes on for too long, it will also be hard on your body. In fact, multiple studies have concluded that stress hormones can interfere with weight loss.
Feeling emotional and on edge may prompt you to reach for comfort food. Fight this tendency by regularly taking the time to do things that make you feel good. If you’re not sure what those things are, then experiment!
For example, exercise can work off both the pounds and the angst. Spending time with a friend, or indulging in a bubble bath or deep breathing exercises may leave you feeling re-energized. Eventually, you’ll find activities that help you unwind without food.
Tip #2: Get support
Gather a core group of friends or family members that love and accept you as you are. These are the people who don’t care what you look like. They may have concerns about your health, but they don’t interfere with your choices, nag you if you fall off the wagon, or judge you because of your decisions.
In addition to friends and family, you can find support by joining a weight-loss or bariatric surgery support group. Having people who understand what you’re going through is incredibly helpful. With support, you’re better able to deal with the emotions that formerly led you to eat.
Tip #3: Eat well
Deprivation leads to overcompensation. If you eat too little during the day, you may overeat in the evening.
After weight loss surgery, patients must eat small portions. They may have to eat three meals a day to get the nutrition they need. That’s why it’s critical that post-op patients follow the directions of their dietitian, who will help with the development of a meal plan.
Furthermore, post-op patients should eat a high-protein, low-carb diet. Within those parameters, there are many tasty foods to enjoy. Savor each bite.
Tip #4: Forgive yourself
If you have a setback, be kind to yourself. Weight loss surgery is a tool to help you eat less, but you will still deal with many of the same issues that challenged you before the surgery. If you get off track, start again. Focus on your goals and get back to your healthy-eating plan.
The WeightWise team includes doctors, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and patient advocates. We’re here to support you!
Contact us today to learn more about our services.
And if you’re considering weight loss surgery, please register for one of our online informational seminars.
We updated this post on 3/21/22.