Do you turn to food when bored, unfulfilled or sad?

Do you feel that raiding the fridge becomes a default after a stressful day or after an argument with a loved one?

Do you feel ‘hangry’ most days and struggle to focus on anything else until food is in sight?

No doubt many of us have experienced eating more than necessary in our lifetimes, just because the food in that restaurant was delicious or because the day was physically demanding. However, turning to food to cope with life’s stresses and discomforts can quickly become a well-engrained habit.

Follow these simple 7 practical tips to reconnect to the body and to curb emotional eating for good.

1.     Mindful eating - Slow down, no distractions

Busy modern lifestyles are all about rushing, multi-tasking and getting to the bottom of the to-do list. Taking time and focused attention for mealtimes has become somewhat of a luxury. When food is eaten mindfully, body has time to recognize, digest and absorb it better. Hunger and satiety signals have time to communicate when to stop and when to keep eating, removing the possibility of overeating.

If finding it hard to eat mindfully, take some deep breaths in between bites, put the knife and the fork down between meals and wait at least 20min before going for a second helping. Also start having at least one distraction- free meal per day, only focusing on the tastes and flavours, rather than on work emails or Facebook feed.

2.     Blood sugar balance

Mindful eating is one of the most effective ways to curb emotional eating, bingeing and overeating, however sometimes even mindful eating seems to barely make the difference. Have you ever experienced such strong urges, that it was hard to focus anything else other than food, let alone have time to pick a ‘healthier’ option before getting a take away pizza?

The truth is that if blood sugar levels are out of balance, the urges will become physical and almost impossible to resist. There are many factors that can imbalance blood sugar, including caffeine, sugar, diet high in processed foods and stress. One day in a busy city office can lead to overeating and bingeing session in the evening. But before feeling guilty and disappointed with own willpower, ask yourself if perhaps daily life could do with a bit more balance first?

3.     Get physical

Emotional eating is often fueled by the disconnect from the body and by ‘living in the mind’. Physical activity and exercise are excellent ways to reconnect to the body, reduce stress and increase energy levels. If it is hard to find time for a daily gym session, replace it with the fast walk to the bus stop or take the stairs all the way to the top floor at work.

Movement also works miracles when intense urges and cravings hit. When the urge seems too strong to manage, turn up your favourite song and dance around for 5min, go for a brisk walk or even just shake your body for a few minutes. May look and feel strange at first, but notice how quickly and effectively this helps to reconnect to the body and self.

4.     Recognize stress

Prolonged or excess amounts of stress increase cravings and drives us to overeat. Stress response creates more disconnect from the body and increases anxiety levels. When stress hormone cortisol is high, the body is naturally craving ‘quick energy’ foods, such as caffeine, sugar, processed foods. Watch out for prolonged stress levels through the day and if feeling too jittery or anxious before a meal, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to get back into the body.

5.     Eat regularly

In the society conditioned to diet and eat less, skipping meals and especially breakfast has become a very unhelpful habit. Having regular meals helps the body sustain its daily functions and have a rhythm, which in turn helps regulate metabolism and increase energy levels. Skipping breakfasts or other meals imbalances blood sugar and can drive to binge, crave foods or overeat later in the day. Make sure to prepare a substantial balanced breakfast to see you through the first half of the day. Porridge with nuts and berries or a wholegrain bread with avocado and egg are a couple of well-balanced options.   

6.     ‘What do I really need?’

Often turning to food can act as a replacement for unfulfilled needs. Perhaps you have been depriving yourself of something or allowed food to act as a reward for all the hard work you have been doing. When urges to reach for biscuits and ‘comfort’ foods arise, pause for a moment and truly ask yourself “What do I need right now?” The answer may come as a surprise and can be a great motivation to put feet up for 10min, call and old friend or take a well- deserved bubble bath with essential oils.

7.     Coping with emotions

Although food may have many other associations, it is for nourishing and fueling the body and keeping it strong and healthy. If food starts to become attached to a feeling or an emotion, relationship with food might need a second look.

Examine what the root of the issue may be, what is fuelling the emotional eating? Try out other coping mechanisms to address those emotions, such as journaling, meditation, exercise classes, affirmations or even talking therapies.

Milda Zolubaite is a Nutritional Therapist based in the West Country, UK. She sees clients with a variety of health concerns and is mainly coaching clients with bulimia, binge eating and emotional eating to overcome disordered eating for good. Milda is passionate about helping others see the benefits of alternative medicine, the healing power of food and nature’s resources.