I encourage all of my clients to keep a food journal where they track everything they eat, even down to individual stevia packets. It generally takes a few days before they get into the habit of writing everything down, but within a week they'll be scrupulously cataloging every morsel of food they ingest. Most of them are absolutely amazed when they see how much - and what - they actually eat. They are especially shocked when they see how much emotional eating they do throughout the day.
There are essentially two kinds of eating. There's healthy eating: three meals and two snacks a day that provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, and energy. This is the type of eating we plan for.
But there's also a second kind of eating, and we're hardly aware of it. This is the mindless eating we do when we're reading a troubling report at our desks, or paying our bills, or getting over a breakup. Emotional eating affects everyone, and it's particularly damaging to your diet for a couple of reasons:
- We don't plan for it. No one really plans for their schedule to go haywire right before lunch, but when it does, we often derail from our healthy eating plan and reach for sweet or salty snack foods that we can munch at our desks. And as we all know, most of those easily available foods are not so good for you.
- The foods that soothe your emotions also pad your waist. Foods that quickly replenish energy levels (by causing immediate spikes in blood sugar) are generally bad for you.
Unfortunately, you can't completely eradicate stress from your life - things get hectic, signals get crossed, and people get crabby. But a vital part of learning how to be healthy is coming up with tricks and techniques to control your response to frustration. If you respond to stress or sadness by eating foods that sabotage your success, you'll only become more upset.
So, how should you conquer those comfort-food cravings? The next time you find yourself tempted by the office vending machine, try one of the following techniques to avoid emotional eating:
- Keep a food journal. My clients (and I) swear by this technique, and it's one of the first suggestions I offer to people learning how to be healthy. In the middle of a craving, it's difficult to tell what kind of hunger you're experiencing, but if you can look in a journal and see that you're craving a candy bar a mere 20 minutes after lunch, you know that your need for sweets is probably emotional and not physical.
- Take some deep breaths. It's amazing how infrequently we actually do this. Whenever you're upset, take a few deep breaths. You can also consider picking up some lavender room spray or essential oils. Lavender is famously soothing and will help calm and center you.
- Keep your hands busy. You know what they say about idle hands, after all. Fiddle with pens, paper clips, or rubber bands while working on difficult projects. If your hands are busy, they won't be available to grab a handful of candy or chips.
- Brush your teeth (or chew gum). Have you ever had orange juice - or anything, really - after brushing your teeth? I wouldn't recommend it. Brushing is a technique a lot of my friends use when they want to avoid snacking. Sometimes stress comes out of nowhere, but if you're heading into a situation that you suspect may be difficult, make sure your breath is minty fresh first. It will wake you up and put your cravings on notice.