We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic that is showing no signs of slowing down, and although there are a few things that can be said about accepting who you are, being confident and not being superficial when it comes to looks, the fact of the matter is that being dramatically overweight increases health risks. This is particularly due to the large amounts of unhealthy foods we consume and the lack of key nutrients in our diets.

Emotional eating is often the culprit when it comes to gaining large amounts of weight—it is a diet killer, an emotional black hole and a drain on your wallet. Some people just can’t handle stress without that happy feeling they get from sugary or high-fat foods. So how do you control this sudden and overwhelming urge?

1. Eat regularly

There are a lot of little tasks during the day that can keep us from having the old “three square meals a day.” Instead of sitting down and having a nice, filling lunch consisting of several different dishes including salads and soup, we just buy some junk food and basically live off snacks, sweets and soda a good part of the day. If a craving strikes it is easy to say we are really just hungry and to keep eating all the junk food we already have at our side. Instead of this, try to eat three big meals a day and have two to three small snacks along the way—some fruit or a homemade milkshake are great treats. This way you won’t be too hungry at any given part of the day and having set meals will allow you greater control over your diet.

2. Eliminate junk food from your home

If you don’t have any unhealthy comfort foods in your home it will be difficult to binge on them even if you break down and give in to your cravings. Go for salads, some fruit, soups and similar meals that won’t be too high on calories. I don’t recommend nuts; although they are healthy when consumed in moderation, it is quite easy to sit back and eat a bucket load of them when you are feeling down. If you still feel a strong need for something sweet after a couple of apples or a banana, identify this as an irrational craving and take steps to overcome it.

3. Distract yourself

The simplest way to deal with a craving is to give your brain something else to think about. Dive into that DIY project you have been putting off for some time, have a friend over and play some video games, take the dog for a walk, sit down and have a cup of coffee with a family member, put on some great music and dance in front of the mirror—anything that gets your mind occupied. Even hardcore smokers can get so distracted by a project that they let a cigarette burn itself out in the ashtray, so find a good way to keep yourself busy and avoid emotional eating.

4. Break bad habits

When you respond to one stimulus by immediately performing a certain action, you program your body to work a certain way. After a while you can basically train yourself to respond to negative feedback, emotional pain and stress by eating ice cream or cake. At this point it is like a reflex action with little conscious planning. You need to identify the situations that trigger emotional eating for you and make an effort to switch to a more positive course of action. You are getting an endorphin high from the sweets and you need to replace this with another stimulus, such as listening to music, singing, running, dancing or cuddling up with someone you love and trust. If you don’t have junk food in your home it can be easier to resort to another tactic straight away than to go out and buy some chocolate or wait for the pizza to arrive.

5. Do some exercise

Exercise is a great substitute for eating when you are feeling down, but is also a great way to boost your self-confidence and relieve stress irrespective of when it is performed. Regular exercise is good for both physical and mental health, and activities like running, punching bag training and yoga can also be used as a direct means of dealing with emotional distress brought on by various events in your life.

6. Go to a qualified therapist

In the end, if you don’t feel like you are able to cope, even with all the advice you have been offered and the emotional support of your close friends and family, it is best to seek out professional help. Some of the causes of emotional eating can be deep-seated emotional issues related to sexuality, self-perception or morality, and these issues can’t be easily resolved. Coming to terms with negative things that have happened in the past is a long and slow process, but it can be done and there are professionals willing to help.

While I don’t have an eating disorder (as such), it’s fair to say that my eating has been disordered from time to time over my journey. How to Become a Conscious Eater

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