(MayoClinic.com) Sometimes the strongest cravings for food happen when you're at your weakest point emotionally. You may turn to food for comfort — consciously or unconsciously — when you're facing a difficult problem, stress or just looking to keep yourself occupied.
But emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Emotional eating often leads to eating too much, especially too much of high-calorie, sweet, fatty foods. But the good news is that if you're prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.
Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Both major life events and the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts. These triggers may include:
Although some people actually eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you're in emotional distress you may turn to impulsive or binge eating — you may rapidly eat whatever's convenient, without even enjoying it.
In fact, your emotions may become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without stopping to think about what you're doing.
Food also serves as a distraction. If you're worried about an upcoming event or stewing over a conflict, for instance, you may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation.
Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and you may also now bear the additional burden of guilt about setting back your weight-loss goal. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for getting off your weight-loss track, you feel bad, and you overeat again.Tips to get your weight-loss efforts back on track
Although negative emotions can trigger emotional eating, you can take steps to control cravings and renew your effort at weight loss. To help stop emotional eating, try these tips:
If you've tried self-help options but you still can't get control of your emotional eating, consider therapy with a professional mental health provider. Therapy can help you understand the motivations behind your emotional eating and help you learn new coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you may have an eating disorder, which is sometimes connected to emotional eating.
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