Tips to help you manage emotional eating

Victoria Evans
Nutritionist and Centre Manager at Bupa UK
15 December 2020
Next review due December 2023

If you’ve found this year stressful, you’re not alone. And, for many of us, turning to food for comfort can be the natural reaction to being tired, bored or stressed. If you’ve found yourself coping with the last few months by reaching for the snacks, you could be using food to deal with your feelings. Below are some of my quick tips to help you manage emotional eating.

1) Reduce stress

Feeling stressed doesn’t just have an impact on our minds, it also effects our body. Stress leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol, which can make you crave fatty and sugary foods. So, it’s no surprise that this year you may well have found yourself turning to comfort foods! Managing your stress levels can help guide you to eat more healthily.

  • Try doing some exercise – even a short walk can help. Exercise can make you feel happier and calmer, as well as giving you something else to focus on.
  • Do something you find relaxing, such as reading a book, taking a bath or listening to music.
  • Try to take a break from the things that are causing you stress. This could be turning off your emails for an hour, getting out of the house, or reducing the time you spend on social media.

2) Manage boredom

Lots of us find that we tend to reach for food when we’re bored. Maybe you grab snacks while you do your chores or find yourself looking in the fridge when you’re on your own. But it’s best to try and stick to eating when you’re feeling hungry. This is because we’re more likely to reach for less nutritious food when we’re bored and eat more than we need to.

  • Rather than eating when you feel bored, do something to keep your mind occupied. This could be reading a book, going for a walk, or taking the time to do a hobby you enjoy.
  • Remove temptation by only keeping more nutritious foods in the house. If you do have fatty or sugary foods, try to keep them out of easy reach.
  • Plan your meals and snacks so that you don’t graze on other things.

3) Eat mindfully

Practising mindfulness can help you to become more aware of how you feel and what’s happening around you. It can also help you to understand your eating habits and why you choose the foods that you do. Maybe having a hard day at work has you reaching for the biscuit tin, or you find yourself grabbing some crisps when you’re bored? Being mindful can help you recognise these habits. It can also help you to have a healthy relationship with the food you eat, as well as how you eat it.

  • When you eat, limit distractions around you and focus on your food – you’ll be more aware of what you’re eating and when you’re eating it.
  • Eat more slowly. Taking time to properly chew your food can make you enjoy it more and help you realise when you’re full.
  • Take time to appreciate the taste, smell and texture of your food. This will help you to enjoy what you’re eating.

These are my top tips to help manage emotional eating – they might not work for everyone, but I hope you find them useful too. And remember, if you find yourself going off track, don’t panic. As soon as you feel able, start to build these healthy habits back into your routines again.

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Victoria Evans
Victoria Evans
Nutritionist and Centre Manager at Bupa UK

    • Yau, Yvonne, and Marc Potenza. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica 38.3 (2013): 255
    • Physical activity and your mental health. Mind., published March 2019
    • How to manage stress. Mind. published November 2017
    • Moynihan, Andrew, et al. Eaten up by boredom: Consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self. Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015): 369
    • Mindfulness. Mind., published in June 2018
    • Cornil, Yann. Mind over stomach: A review of the cognitive drivers of food satiation. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2.4 (2017): 419-429
    • Mindful Eating. British Dietetic Association. published August 2020

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