By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
Jamie is a rockstar advertising executive. She is hard working in her job, hits the gym 4 days a week, and has come leaps and bounds since we started working together on her eating. She’s energetic and quick witted. When we first started her nutrition work, it was because she was newly diagnosed with hypothyroid.
I asked her at intake if she thinks she eats emotionally, and she gave an emphatic, “No! I’m so not that person.”
I listened to her tell me how controlled she is with food, but when she mentioned eating through a box of gluten free crackers when she decompresses in front of the tube watching Inside Amy Schumer, I knew I would soon be teaching her how to stop emotional eating.
See, emotional eating isn’t just eating out of sadness or the “broke up with the boyfriend” kind.
It’s also not limited to shoving chips in your mouth when you’re stressed, or overdoing the Baked by Melissa cupcakes when you get a promotion, or diving into the Nutella jar to undo a day of disappointments.
It can also be super subtle and entirely nuanced.
Do you ever find yourself eating the pretzels and not even realize you were doing it? That may be emotional (and not that you have no self control!). Ever finish your third slice of pizza, even though you were full? Emotions, baby. Emotions.
Yes, food works. Eating actually soothes rough emotional edges thanks to the role of serotonin, our ‘happy hormone.’ Serotonin is released in your brain when you feel pleasure, like the yum sensation that comes from a chocolate chip cookie between your teeth. It can temporarily calm the anxiety hormones, stress hormones, and blues. Serotonin floods our brain with calm and overpowers negative hormonal actions, so eating actually does make us feel better. Temporarily.
As life has it, carbs and sweets (versus kale and chia) are the most powerful serotonin releasers, often sabotaging our health.
The good news is that you can assess your life and figure out where you feel you eat emotionally and plan interventions to gain control of them – or at least reel them in.
Here’s how to stop emotional eating:
- Identify your triggers. What are the things that you solve with food? Are you a distressed victim when the office throws a party and leftover cake calls your name? Will your "give up" instincts kick in and force you to quit, before you even try to resist the french fries that come to the table when you’re out for the night with girlfriends? If you are looking for a great way to ID your triggers, keep a food journal for 2 weeks. Take note of not just what you eat, but also where you are, and when during the day you fall short with your food. This will help you deduce what triggers you to eat things you’d rather not be licking your fingers after. If you can look at the foods, the environment, and the feelings you were having when eating, you’ll be more easily able to plan for these triggers and stop overdoing it. You can’t overcome emotional eating, unless you take this first step — once established, move on to #2 and #3.
- Create controls. If you can figure out your triggers, you can empower yourself by controlling them. Emotional eating can be addressed with non food controls and food controls. If you’re a night time eater, like Jamie, or find there is a situation or time you feel especially weak with your diet, pick a couple activities that empower you — write in your food journal, do 5 minutes of planks, or take a walk — and write them down. It may sound trite, but the power of these little things is amazing. You’ll want to pull this list out soon. You also want to have a couple food controls. Better to make a positive food choice that is planned and healthful, than to say “screw it” and regret it by fueling an emotion. A couple of my personal fave food controls are: air popped popcorn with sea salt and pepper, and marinated artichoke hearts.
- Learn the Triple D strategy. No matter what your trigger, here’s a technique that works for just about everyone and most situations. It’s the three D approach. Delay, distract and disarm your way out of emotional eating. Make the conscious decision to delay action before eating. It gives you a chance to change your course. During those planned, delaying minutes, distract yourself. Get your mind off of the food and focus on a task, like meditating, making a to-do list, or whitening your teeth. Finally, disarm yourself by getting rid of the trigger-related foods like chips and ice cream in the house. If you really want an ice cream, rather than an emotional spiral, make it a conscious indulgence. Plan to walk out to the ice cream shop for a treat you can feel good about.
This article was first published on Keri Glassman's website, Nutiritious Life, in June 2015: http://nutritiouslife.com/how-to-stop-emotional-eating/
Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice in New York City, as well as The Nutrition School, a 12-week online course created to provide an unprecedented nutrition education and a springboard for building a successful career as a nutritionist. She is on the advisory board for Yahoo Health, is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott hotels, and contributes monthly to Livestrong.com and Foodnetwork.com.
Keri was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, Upwave, and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off.” She has authored four books, including The New You, Improved Diet, and The O2 Diet. Keri is regularly featured on national television programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live. She is a spokesperson for national brands that align with the Nutritious Life mission, and is a prolific writer and commentator for many media outlets. Keri resides in New York City with her children, Rex and Maizy.