Though the survey takers may have been confused about what one’s “psychological wellbeing” actually meant (it kinda sounds like a person’s mental stability, right?), it’s apparent that many of us are convinced that you can muscle your way to a fitter body by diet and exercise alone.
“We tend to think that our mind and body are separate, but they’re completely intertwined,” says Michelle May, M.D., author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.
Every single one of us is an emotional eater, says May, and that’s totally normal and healthy. (Woo hoo!) We celebrate holidays and birthdays with food, and we connect with our partners and friends over big dinners. Though food makes us feel loved and comforted, sadly, the effects are only temporary. That’s why we often keep going back for more and more and more. Plus, no matter how much you restrict yourself or clock in gym time, your emotional need for food can keep you from meeting your goals.
While that is super-frustrating, pausing to notice how you feel physically and emotionally in the moment can make a huge difference in reaching your weight-loss goal, says May.
Here, the strategies May’s clients use to conquer the emotional side of eating, so you can build a healthier relationship with food:
Ask Yourself, Am I Hungry?
The next time you find yourself in front of the fridge, step back and ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” If you are, eat something. If you’re not, ask ‘Why do I feel like eating?’ Maybe you’re stressed from work and looking for a way to relax or you’re just freaking bored. In any case, try to find an alternative activity that gets to the source of your emotional need.
One of the most powerful triggers for emotional eating is restriction and deprivation, says May. When you make things off limits in order to slim down, you obsess over them and end up overeating them later,” says May. Seriously, willpower only goes so far. Giving yourself permission to eat the foods you really love will help you stop putting your favorite dessert or takeout on a pedestal and overdoing it later. In other words, the cookies that used to be “COOKIES!!!” will become “oh, cookies.”
Keep a Journal
Tracking what you eat and how you feel after you eat it can help you pinpoint feelings or emotions associated with certain cravings. “Once you realize that you go for the crunchy, salty stuff every time you’re frustrated will give you an incentive to find other outlets,” says May. (Or at least keep your hand out of the Cheetos bag.)
See a Professional
If emotional eating starts to seriously impact your life or you’re struggling with binge eating, a therapist can help you get back on track.