How to Beat Emotional Eating

If you’re staying home and getting a little stir crazy, you’re not alone. We all respond differently when our daily routines are turned upside down.

I want to share some ideas about emotional overeating. This is when you eat more than you should or eat the wrong things in response to stress, boredom, or other factors.

The process that leads to emotional overeating typically breaks down to these three steps: the trigger, the craving, and the action.

Trigger, Craving, Action
Let’s look at the trigger first by using this example…
Let’s say that you ordinarily do great in sticking with your meal plan/diet when you’re working away from home. That may be because if you’re a bodybuilder like me, you have your meals pre-planned and your lunch packed. The best part about packing your food is that it takes all of the guess work out of deciding what to eat when you’re hungry. It’s in your lunch box! That’s all you have access to, so you’ve set yourself up to succeed and stick to your program by setting up a controlled environment, right?

But now let’s say you’re at home. And every time that you walk past the fridge, it’s calling out to you: “Oh hey there … come check out what yummy delicious things I have inside!”

That’s the trigger. So you start thinking about all that delicious food in the fridge. That’s when the craving starts. So you think, “what the heck, I’m going to check it out.”

You open the fridge door and go scrounging around. “Oh hey, that looks good. I’m going to have some of that.” A little is not going to hurt you right? That’s the action.

Trigger, craving, action. Triggers can be more than just visual cues like the refrigerator in our example. Triggers can be anything that causes you to start craving food. Some people are triggered to eat when they feel stressed or anxious. Using food to put out the fires of emotional states or triggers can often lead to gaining weight, not to mention unhealthy eating patterns.

The more you engage in the trigger, craving, action cycle, the more deeply ingrained the habit becomes. These harmful associations between emotional triggers and eating unhealthy food become reinforced and wired into your brain. With enough ‘practice’ It’s almost like your mind goes on autopilot, and you lose control of the situation. Again, and again…

So how do you overcome this vicious cycle? You have to start by identifying your triggers. Thinking about what your triggers are, can help you to get out of your autopilot state of mind.

For example, if you’re honest with yourself and realize that when you get stressed, you start looking for food in the fridge, then you can develop coping mechanisms that include healthier responses to stress.

I’ve heard it said that you really can’t change habits. But you can certainly replace bad habits with good habits.

OK then, HOW do you start?
Start by setting yourself up to win. Coming back to our example, if you remove all tempting foods from your refrigerator and pantry, it’s going to help you when you open the fridge door. You’re going to foil your attempt to eat the wrong things. Better yet, don’t buy the wrong things to begin with. Exercise your decision to break bad eating habits at the supermarket.

Then plan some substitute behaviors. If you know you’re going to make a bad food choice, then pick a better alternative in advance. Buy foods that taste great, yet have fewer calories and a better macronutrient profile than a favorite junk food. Buy fruit for snacks. Buy frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Or hot air popcorn without butter, instead of chips. Have these foods on hand instead of the fully leaded bad stuff.

If you feel the temptation to emotionally overeat coming on, try exercising rather than eating. Go for a walk or jog around the block. Or better yet go to the gym. You would be surprised how much better you feel after a workout. Endorphins are released and make you feel better. Not to mention that your body is better suited to handle additional calories after working out.
The idea is to substitute better habits for old bad habits.

Wrapping it up
One last word… when you’re initially making these changes, give yourself some time to adapt. Changes require repetition. If you mess up, then fix it and move on. Try again, don’t throw in the towel. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Being aware of your triggers, will help you to get in control of your cravings and the actions that you take. Work at it and in time, you’ll have an easier time of getting mastery over your behaviors. Make it a healthy week!

About the Author: Lee Labrada

Lee Labrada is the founder and CEO of Labrada Nutrition, makers of Lean Body protein shakes. Lee’s mission is to empower you with the nutritional products and the know-how to get into great shape and be healthy for life.

One of the world's best-known bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 bodybuilding
titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. Lee is an inductee of the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert. Lee is the best-selling author of The Lean Body Promise and co-founder of Lean Body Coaching. He is also the Host of The Lee Labrada Show. Check out his podcast here.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.