9 ways to curb emotional eating

Do your emotions control your eating habits? Take back control with these ideas.

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, stressed out or just looking to keep yourself occupied.

Emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts by leading you to overeat, especially 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. To help stop emotional eating, try these tips:

  1. Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress-management technique, such as yoga, meditation or relaxation.
  2. Have a hunger reality check. Is your hunger physical or emotional? If you ate just a few hours ago and don't have a rumbling stomach, you're probably not really hungry. Give the craving a little time to pass.
  3. Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal the connection between mood and food.
  4. Get support. You're more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group.
  5. Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you're not truly hungry, distract yourself. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or call a friend.
  6. Take away temptation. Don't keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they're hard for you to resist. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you're sure that you have your emotions in check.
  7. Don't deprive yourself. When you're trying to achieve a weight-loss goal, you may limit your calories too much, eat the same foods frequently and banish the treats you enjoy. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Let yourself enjoy an occasional treat and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
  8. Snack healthy. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip or unbuttered popcorn. Or try low-fat, lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods to see whether they satisfy your craving.
  9. Learn from setbacks. If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day…or the next moment. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that'll lead to better health.

If you've tried self-help options but 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 teach you new coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you may have an eating disorder, which is sometimes behind emotional eating.