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6 strategies for managing emotional eating

Food can be comforting, which is where emotional eating comes in.

Written by
Team Pilot
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
January 16, 2024
min read
6 strategies for managing emotional eating
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Many people emotionally eat, which means they eat for reasons other than hunger. Food can be comforting, which is why it can be used in situations where hunger isn’t a factor.

Signs of emotional eating include eating because you’re sad, depressed, stressed, bored or lonely and using food as a reward. Food can be used as a means of soothing and distracting oneself from what is really bothering them.

And, when we eat to soothe feelings while also trying to lose weight, this begins a cycle of guilt and shame that pushes us further into a negative space.

There are ways to manage emotional eating and you can make changes to the way you respond to certain feelings so it doesn’t result in automatically reaching for food. Here’s where to start.

#1 Check in with your hunger

Is the hunger physical or emotional?

An emotional food craving usually hits when there is a desire to remove a feeling by eating something specific — like chocolate. If you just ate a few hours ago and don't have a rumbling stomach, you're probably not hungry.

There are two types of hunger that you commonly experience.

  • Physical Hunger: Builds up over time, felt in your belly e.g rumbling.
  • Emotional Hunger: Comes on quickly with a strong fixation on a particular food.

Try to check in with yourself regularly and monitor whether you’re experiencing physical or emotional hunger. This will help you manage your hunger levels and make a conscious choice to only engage with physical hunger versus emotional hunger.

#2 Keep a food diary

A food diary is a handy tool when trying to identify your habits around food.

Learning your patterns of behaviour and the connection you have between your food intake, mood and situation is helpful so you can understand what type of hunger you’re experiencing.

Things to include in your diary can include:

  • How much you are eating?
  • How hungry were you?
  • How were you feeling?
  • What was happening at the time?
  • Where were you?

#3 Check in with your environment

If you know that there is a food that you choose in stressful moments, try not to keep it in your house or add it to your shopping trolley. While enjoying all kinds of food in moderation is recommended, it can be difficult when you’re actively trying to lose weight.

For the time being, avoid purchasing the foods you eat when feeling emotional and pay attention to your behaviour in times of stress.

For example, do you notice that you tend to pull into the drive-through when you’re having a rough day? When this happens, do your best to ignore the temptation and drive right past it.

#4 Before eating, ask yourself a few questions

Instead of diving straight into a meal at the first feeling of hunger, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions to deduce what style of hunger you’re experiencing.

These questions could include:

Are you angry?

Deal with the issue if you can or give yourself some time away from the situation. Step outside, call a friend or take some deep breaths.

Are you lonely?

You’re more likely to engage in emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Reach out to friends, family or colleagues.

Are you tired or thirsty?

Check your sleep habits — how much have you had? Are you thirsty? When did you last drink some water?

Are you bored?

Distraction is key! Instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself and substitute with a healthier behaviour.

Are you stressed or sad?

If you are feeling stressed, try some stress management techniques. If you are sad, be kind to yourself and reach out to someone.

Are you hungry?

If you are, then it's time to eat! Choose low GI and high protein meals as they help you feel fuller for longer, leading to fewer cravings and hunger signals.

#5 Reframe your thoughts

If you have a moment of emotional eating, practice forgiveness and kindness towards yourself and start fresh the next day. Take this as a learning experience and work on implementing strategies to prevent this in future.

Here are some techniques to help you gain a more helpful perspective on your situation. Try writing these things down:

  1. Identify the situation that led to the emotional eating.
  2. How did you feel and what were you thinking at the time?
  3. How did you feel after the emotional eating?
  4. Is there a more positive way of seeing the situation? What can you do that is more helpful for the future?

#6 Try something new

If you're struggling with emotional eating and weight loss, Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes might be for you.

Our creamy, convenient meal replacement shakes help to keep you satisfied (which helps to keep emotional eating at bay!) until your next meal and are developed with dietitians and backed by science for lasting results.

The Weight Reset Shakes contain more than 40 per cent of your daily vitamin needs for immunity and overall health as well as high-quality whey protein and are a good source of fibre. Plus, they taste delicious and contain pre and probiotics for gut health.

And, on the Rapid weight loss plan, it's normal to lose up to 2kgs a week for the first 4 to 6 weeks, then 0.8kgs each week beyond that on this class of treatment.

When to seek help from a professional?

If you have tried many self-guided help options and you are still struggling with emotional eating, consider reaching out to a professional. Seeking professional support can help you gain an understanding of your situation and learn coping skills and get the care you need.

For those needing further support for emotional eating on their weight loss journey, you might want to consider Pilot’s Metabolic Reset Program.

Our Metabolic Reset Program includes clinically-proven treatments — which works to decrease your appetite and keep you feeling fuller for longer — with community support from our medical team and health coaches, while also connecting you with a supportive community of like-minded men to help keep you motivated and accountable to your weight loss goals.

If you or someone you know needs help with emotional eating, reach out to the Butterfly Foundation.

Photo Credit: 20th Television

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