Sometimes the strongest longings for food happen when youâ??re at your weakest point emotionally. Many of us have turned to food for comfort, consciously or unconsciously.

Emotional eating sabotages weight-loss efforts

Whilst emotional eating can suppress or sooth our negative emotions, it can most certainly sabotage our weight-loss efforts! Getting a handle on your tendency to eat in response to emotions can be one of the most important factors in achieving long-term weight loss success.

We crave comfort food when emotions peak or trough

Often your desire to eat has NOTHING to do with that little rumbling feeling inside your stomach, telling you that you NEED to eat. We get a strong longing for foods when our emotions peak or trough – especially comforting, fattening ones.

Emotional eating is a behavioural response to depressed thoughts

We feel all we want to do is eat and that nothing else will help. Generally binge eating/ yoyo dieting is a disease that hurts us physically, and mentally. It is a behavioural response to holding depressed thoughts about one or oneâ??s life.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

For some, it normally takes a major life event to trigger this downwards spiral off- such as unemployment, health issues, death or divorce. For others that I have come to know in my consult room on a daily basis, it is a CONSTANT struggle.

The traffic on the way to work, a tough day in the office, a break in their routine, the weather and daily grind can lead to really bad habits of turning to food to make things seem better. This vicious cycle makes the situation so much worse because the more you eat… the more side affects you get, like weight gain, guilt about eating, poor health, this causes more stress and so the cycle starts again.

Beware of addictive foods

Be careful as some foods contain addictive qualities e.g: chocolate. Your body releases mood elevating, satisfying energies that increase your seretonin levels making you feel pleasure at that time.

That can offset any negative emotions or guilt. Of course a habit begins because that â??rewardâ? may now make you crave certain foods that are closely associated with those uplifting feelings.

How to tell the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, according to the University of Texas Counselling and Mental Health Centre web site:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.
2. When you are eating to fill a void that isnâ??t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, youâ??re open to options.
3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the foods you crave; physical hunger can wait.
4. Even when you are full, if youâ??re eating to satisfy an emotional need, youâ??re more likely to keep eating. When youâ??re eating because youâ??re hungry, youâ??re more likely to stop when youâ??re full.
5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

Follow these steps to regain your self control

1. Identify your triggers: The first step for handling emotional eating is to identify your emotional eating trigger. Situations & emotions that trigger us to eat, normally fall into one of these 5 categories

• Social: eating when around people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to fit in; or feeling of inadequacy around other people
• Emotional: eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety or loneliness as a way to â??fill the void.â?
• Situational: eating because the opportunity is there. For example: at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food, passing by a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event etc.
• Thoughts: eating as a result of a negative self-worth or making excuses for eating. For example, scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
• Physiological: eating in response to physical cues. For example: increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pains.

Keep a food/feelings journal

As I always do I urge you to keep a food/feelings journal. We all have different reasons for giving in to emotional eating so record exactly how you are feelings, your stressors, thoughts and emotions as you eat, and then how much, how often and what you eat when you are feeling a specific way. Over time you will be able to pick up the patterns you will know what emotions trigger you.

2. Learn to recognise hunger signals: try listening to your body and eat when youâ??re hungry instead of eating when youâ??re supposed to e.g: lunch time. True hunger actually feels like a mild gnawing sensation in the gut. If youâ??re feeling a craving or getting hungry – try waiting 10 minutes.

If you land up moving on to something else, this was a craving, if the urge is still there, chances are youâ??re actually hungry. We need to reacquaint our bodies to eat in response to physical hunger rather that habits.

3. Donâ??t skip meals: this will make your blood sugar plummet, almost always causing you to over-eat.

4. Look elsewhere for comfort: instead of unwrapping a candy bar, take a walk, treat yourself to a movie, listen to music, read or call a friend. If you think that stress relating to a particular event is nudging you towards the refrigerator, try talking to someone about it to distract yourself. Plan enjoyable events for yourself.

5. Eliminate trigger foods: avoid having an abundance of high-calorie comfort foods in the house. If you feel hungry or blue, postpone the shopping trip for a few hours so that these feelings donâ??t influence your decisions at the store.

6. Snack healthily: if you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie food, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with fat-free dip or unbuttered popcorn. Or test low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favourite foods to see if they satisfy your cravings.

7. Eat a balanced diet: if youâ??re not getting enough calories to meet your energy needs, you may be more likely to give in to emotional eating. Try to eat at fairly regular times and donâ??t skip breakfast. Include foods from the basic groups in your meals. Emphasize whole grains, vegetables and fruits, as well as low-fat dairy products and lean protein sources. When you fill up on basics, youâ??re more likely to feel fuller, longer.

8. Avoid â??Dietingâ?: We need to stop blaming weight gain on a defective metabolism. Remember that diets work, but donâ??t stop the pain that is the root cause of overeating. You need to develop a healthier relationship with yourself; your body and food.

9. Exercise regularly and get adequate rest:  your mood is more manageable and your body can effectively fight stress when itâ??s fit and well rested.

10. Find your lifeâ??s purpose: donâ??t be afraid to follow your gut feelings. Itâ??s easier to ignore your inner dreams then face the idea of possible failure, rejection and ridicule.  Just as I have a lifeâ??s purpose… so do you!

The more I chat to people/ clients that seem lost, the more I see it stem from their unfulfilled lifeâ??s purpose. They are living in volcanoes of fear, anxiety and guilt. Freeing yourself of emotional eating is about so much more than the foods we eat – itâ??s about reconnecting and forming a trusting partnership with your feelings, emotions and true desires.

A normally-minded person will eat normally. If one is a glutton, it is because his mentality is filled with unexpressed longings which he is trying to sublimate.â?? – Earnest Holmes (1887-1960), author of: â??The science of mindsâ?

11. Consider treatment choices: this may sound extreme given that emotional eating is not a diagnosable eating disorder, but its great to know you are NOT alone! Seek the advice or help of a dietician, councillor, doctor or psychiatrist if your own attempts seem in vain.

12. Donâ??t give up: we have all used food as a reward, to relax, a short-term relief of emotional pain; stress or fear. Weight has very little to do with the body and EVERYTHING to do with the mind and spirit. If you fail, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try and learn from your experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on all the positive change you are making and give yourself some credit.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.