Emotional eating – or eating for reasons other than hunger – is something we ALL do from time to time.

Whether it’s because we’re feeling stressed, tired or bored, or something else, food can be a great source of comfort and help distract us for a little while from those difficult feelings.

But while emotional eating is really common and normal, it can be a problem if you’re trying to lose weight. 

And if eating is the first and ONLY thing that comes to mind when you’re feeling uncomfortable – we’ve got some work to do!

The good news is there are a range of other strategies you can use that will help you cope with difficult feelings without turning to food.

These are all strategies I recommend to my clients and use myself, so I know they work and can really help to break the emotional eating cycle when you’re not feeling your best self.

5 emotional eating strategies for when you’re feeling stressed, tired or bored

Here are my top 5 emotional eating strategies for when you’re feeling stressed, tired or bored

1. Distraction

One of the biggest reasons we emotionally eat is because we’ve learnt to distract ourselves from our feelings with food.

So in order to overcome this, we need to have other ways to distract ourselves that don’t involve eating!

This could include things like:

  • doing some stretching or stepping outside for some fresh air
  • watching or listening to something that makes you laugh (I find cat, dog and toddler videos are good for this!)
  • calling a family member or friend if you’re feeling lonely 
  • listening to your favourite music
  • taking a hot shower or warm bath

Basically anything that makes you feel happy and content can be a great distraction when the food cravings strike.

2. Deep breathing

Deep breathing is one of my go-to strategies when I’m feeling stressed and tempted to eat even though I’m not hungry.

There’s lots of research into the benefits of deep breathing, including its effects on your nervous system.

Basically, it helps deactivate your amygdala (the part of your brain that triggers the fight-or-flight response), which can often go into overdrive when you’re feeling stressed.

Deep breathing helps tell your brain there isn’t any danger, which in turn will help you calm down and think a bit more clearly.

There are lots of different exercises that can help you do this, but a simple way is to do what one of my counsellor friends describes as ‘coffee breathing’.

This is where you pretend you’re blowing on a hot cup of coffee to cool it down, and then breathe in the nice aroma.

Do it four times in a row for a maximum of four times, or until you feel relief.

3. Meditation

Meditation is another strategy that you can use to help you overcome your emotional eating urges.

It helps you to learn to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement, and to sit with those uncomfortable feelings without needing to distract yourself (with food or anything else!).

It also helps you to be more mindful, which is actually one of the first things I get my clients to focus on when they want to lose weight.

Because being present in the moment and focusing on your thoughts, feelings and physical cues is a really important part of being in control of your eating behaviours and making good decisions about food.

Learning to meditate is like learning any other skill, so it’s a good idea to practise regularly and even incorporate it into your daily routine if you can.

But it’s also a strategy you can use in the moment when the urge to emotionally eat strikes.

And if you’re looking for a tool to help you, this guided meditation for cravings is a great one to try!

RELATED: Mindful eating for weight loss: A beginner’s guide to tuning into your body

4. Tapping

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or ‘tapping’ might sound a bit ‘woo’, but there is research to suggest that it can be effective in helping to alleviate emotional distress.

Similar to acupuncture, it involves applying pressure or tapping on the body’s meridian points to help energy flow and address any imbalances.

This helps send a calming signal to the brain, which is helpful when you’re feeling stressed and tempted to distract yourself with food.

It’s something you can do yourself anytime and anywhere, and there are lots of online resources and apps to help guide you.

The app I personally use is called The Tapping Solution, which is free to download and has a library of guided tapping meditations covering lots of different topics.

5. Self-compassion

The final emotional eating strategy I recommend is to be compassionate with yourself.

It’s important to remember that everyone eats for comfort from time to time, and it’s a perfectly acceptable form of coping.

So if you do eat for reasons other than hunger, don’t beat yourself up about it. 

That’s only going to create more feelings of discomfort that you’re going to want to soothe yourself from (and so the cycle continues!).

What you can do is remember to be kind to yourself and practise self-care.

This is really the key to minimising emotional eating, because when our self-care starts to fall, food can often become the replacement.

And I don’t just mean going and getting a massage or a mani/pedi (although you can totally do those things too!).

I mean making sure that your physical and emotional needs are being met every. single. day.

When you do this, you’ll be much less likely to turn to food to fulfil your emotional needs.

Use these emotional eating strategies the next time you feel the urge to emotionally eat and see which ones work best for you!

Not sure if emotional eating might something you’re experiencing?  Take the quiz and find out.

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