In her new book, Eat.Q. Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence (Harper, 2013), psychologist Susan Albers presents a unique approach to stress eaters.
“Many stress eaters, at least the ones I’ve worked with, know what foods are healthy or not—they actually know quite a lot about nutrition. What they don’t know, and is frustrating, is why they ‘know’ how they want and intend to eat but can’t seem to make that choice.”
Albers wrote Eat.Q. to help emotional eaters learn to approach food in a new way. Here, Albers offers eight tips from her book for readers to quell emotional eating.
1) Avoid the all-or-nothing thinking. I call it zebra thinking. You know you are doing it when you use words like should, can’t, never or always.
Swap these for more middle-of-the-road and compassionate words. So, instead of “I will never eat cake like that again,” try “I ate too much cake and in the future when I’m upset I’ll try other ways to calm down.” Compassion, not judgment, is key to stopping the emotional eating cycle. Judgment of yourself just fuels shame and more emotional eating.
2) If you can’t avoid eating, try mindful eating. In other words, eat it slowly, savor each bite, smell the aroma, look at it carefully. Just be very present mentally when you are eating.
3) Before you take a bite, simply just begin by consciously asking yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If you get this I’m-not-totally-sure-if-I am-really-hungry feeling, the answer is probably that you are emotionally hungry.
Make a deal with yourself: Delay and distract for five minutes. If you are still hungry at the end of those five minutes, then go for it—eat something. If not, you have your answer. This simple task is the first step in rewiring your brain. Instead of hungry=eat, you are training it to think physical hunger=eat or emotional hunger=distract.
4) Distract. Studies show that engaging your mind in a visual spatial task—like a puzzle or drawing a picture—is more effective in blocking cravings than other activities.
5) Create calming daily rituals. Rituals are different than habits. Habits are things you do mindlessly on autopilot. Rituals like writing daily in your journal for five minutes or drinking a cup of warm beverage out of your favorite mug in the same chair can be incredibly calming.
6) Deep breathing. It sounds simple, but adding oxygen to your brain helps you to think clearer and make better food decisions, particularly when you are stressed.
7) Walk. A recent study showed that 20 minutes of walking can help curb chocolate cravings.
8) Drink black tea. Studies show that you can reduce your cortisol level by 47 percent. Cortisol is the stress hormone that makes you crave sugary, fatty foods.