Last Updated on April 9, 2019
How can you change your eating habits and control emotional eating if your hunger is triggered by anxiety or anger?
The simple answer is that you have to learn to cope with your cravings before you reach your fridge. I know, this is easier said than done, in spite of the fact that you are well educated when it comes to healthy eating. You probably have also a whole bunch of clean eating recipes at hand. Although this knowledge is a big advantage for your weight management it seems not to be enough, if your hunger is often triggered by anxiety or anger.
The challenge is to learn coping skills that really work for your specific needs. Today, I present to you 12 simple steps to control emotional eating, especially when you are anxious or stressed.
Learn these mindfulness skills to eat in moderation
Did you know that people who meditate are healthier, happier and more successful than those who don’t? The amazing benefits of mindfulness and meditation might make you want to try it yourself.
In Dr. Michael Macht’s study project for emotional eating, the first thing his participants learn is mindfulness. They observe themselves, experience consciously sensory impressions, and trace their anger, stress and daily hassles. By doing this, they become their own detectives regarding their individual emotional eating triggers.
For some people, this could mean to learn to write down everything in a diary what is burdening their soul. Often, the craving for sweets disappears. The trick: The diary deals automatically with everything that is making you feel depressed; getting rid of all that crap the writing-way.
From experience, we know that a steady balance in life is practically impossible. In his book “What are you hungry for”, Deepak Chopra recommends an emergency program for emotional eaters:
1) Pause, before you put something in your mouth.
2) Try to find out, what emotion is actually dominating, and visualize afterwards how to get rid of it. E.G. throw it out of the window or burn it in the oven.
3) Treat yourself with something for not eating: reading a chapter in your favorite book, walk around the blog or cuddle with your dog.
This is only a short and rough overview. Now, let's put a magnifying glass on it and learn this important mindfulness skill. When you are stressed, give yourself 5 minutes to really feel the anger or anxiety in your body.
12 simple steps to control emotional eating
- Start with the awareness that the craving for food is based on a thought that creates an emotion, even if you still don’t know what it is. Feel these emotions without over interpreting them.
- Observe where exactly in your body those emotions are located. Scan your body from head to toe for those signals or physical cravings you are feeling.
- Just observe – not analyze! At the moment, you are only collecting information.
- Don’t press yourself into a quick answer that is explaining everything, like: Oh, it is my husband who is driving me crazy or the traffic jam. If such an answer is crossing your mind it is usually your brain. Your body is slow and quiet with its signals. Wait at least 30 seconds, better 60 seconds.
- Remember that emotions can feel like hunger even if it seems strange for you.
- Don’t trap yourself with thoughts like “I should do this/that” and don't judge your feelings.
Embrace those feelings, even if they feel silly. Just keep a little distance and observe everything like a scientist with a notebook.
- If such a feeling is coming up, ask yourself how this present situation stands maybe in context with your own identity or your inner values. Ask yourself politely in a chattily way “Oh, this seems important to me. Why?”
- If you get an answer (wait again – your body is slow), ask yourself more questions. “What’s going on? Why is this so important to me?” Ask more and more and pay attention to the reaction of your body. Like the “hot or cold” game. “Is this negative feeling coming from something that is happening right now or is it a worry from when I was young?”
- Give yourself some minutes to get aware of the emotions you are feeling. Look at the clock if necessary and invest 5 minutes into this project. If you are sad then cry. If you are angry, then snarl like a dog or grit your teeth. If you are worried, then frown.
- Now go reverse into slow motion, to find more hints. What did you do before you felt like that? Who was with you? What happened? What about one hour before? In the morning?
- Take 10 deep breaths. Exhale afterwards for 5 seconds. Try to empty your lungs totally. If necessary, let your emotions go. Let them float away like a soap bubble or throw them out of the window.
- Once you are ready with your breath work look, if your hunger feeling has changed? If yes, how? If not, why?
If you can’t find a quiet location for all those twelve steps (e.g. at work, at home with the kids, etc.) sneak to the bathroom. Hopefully, these 12 simple steps can provide the direction you need to give mindfulness a try in your own life. Don't give up too early. If the first attempts are frustrating. Just try it again. Like any skill, mindfulness needs regular practice.
Further reading: 96 best yoga quotes for inspiration
Bonus Tip: How dates can help you control emotional eating when anxious
Dates are especially rich in Tryptophan, an amino acid that is known for its natural way to calm the nervous system. Our brain produces the happiness hormone serotonin with the help of Tryptophan. A low Tryptophan level in your brain is hence associated with anxiousness, depression and other psychic problems. That’s why it’s important to support your body's serotonin production with a steady Tryptophan supply.
A great protective strategy for anxious and stressed eaters could be to eat a few dates daily.
You don’t like dates? Check out my favorite lean, clean eating treat with dates. The great thing about it, you won't taste the dates in this yummy snack:
Other foods rich in Tryptophan are quinoa and amaranth.