For most people food is associated with all things positive—birthdays, graduations, weddings, holidays—so it’s no wonder we often turn to so called “comfort food” to feel better when we’re down, stressed or bored. Though you probably don’t need a researcher to tell you, a new study says comfort food doesn’t improve mood. In fact, it often makes you feel worse.
Penn State researchers analyzed responses from college-age women who reported that if they were in a negative mood before indulging in comfort foods, that mood only got worse after the episode. However, if they were in a positive mood beforehand, that mood didn’t change.
Turning to food for emotional reasons is not only an ineffective way to change how we feel, it is one of the major reasons why many of us struggle with maintaining our weight. Emotional eating often leads to eating too much, especially too much of high-calorie, sweet, fatty foods.
But 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.
Try These Tips:
Self Assessment – Keep a food/mood journal of what you eat, how much you eat, how you were feeling (mood and hunger level) each day. This will help you understand your personal emotional triggers and responses.
Tame Triggers – Try to reduce or eliminate the situations that trigger emotional eating. For example, reduce stress through yoga, meditation, relaxation or other healthy lifestyle change. If you engage in mindless eating when you’re bored, find an activity to keep you occupied—take a walk, play with your dog, listen to music or surf the internet.
Gut Check – Ask yourself: Am I really hungry? If you just ate and your stomach isn’t growling, you’re eating for a reason other than hunger. Drink a glass of water, divert your attention to another activity and give the urge to eat time to pass.
Find Balance – The trick to managing comfort food cravings is finding a healthy balance. You may not want to eliminate these foods entirely as this may only increase cravings. Instead, slowly reduce the amount and frequency of their consumption and replace them with healthier options like: fresh fruit, vegetables, lite popcorn, non-fat yogurt or lower calorie/fat/sugar versions of the same foods.
Learn and Adjust – Changing behaviors takes self-awareness, time, and patience. If you get off track, learn from mistakes and determine how to avoid them in the future. Give yourself credit for making changes that will improve your overall health and wellness.
When to Get Help
If you've tried to gain control over emotional eating on your own without success, consider therapy with a professional healthcare provider. Therapy can help you understand the motivations behind your emotional eating and help you learn new coping skills. Therapy can also help you discover whether you may have an eating disorder.