By Debbie Oberlander, LCSW, RD, CDN
February is American Heart Month, a time in which we also mark Valentine’s Day. This is a great opportunity to take charge of our physical and emotional well being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both women and men. Diet and obesity, two of the risk factors for heart disease, are very much within our control.
For many people, emotional eating is a major stumbling block to weight management. Emotional eating is most broadly defined as eating for reasons other than hunger, something most of us experience at some time or another. Who among us cannot remember reaching for a sweet treat either for celebration or solace? “Comfort foods” even feature prominently in today’s culinary lexicon. However, when feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or loneliness drive one to continually make poor food choices, resulting in unwanted weight gain or increased health risk, it may be time for action. For some, this may entail relatively simple changes of behavior. Others may benefit from professional guidance or psychotherapy. Working through the emotional issues and learning effective coping strategies can facilitate behavioral changes for healthier eating and living.
Here are some basic tips for countering emotional eating:
- Nurture an attitude of self like and acceptance so that you will want to work toward your dietary goals rather than sabotage them.
- Notice the feelings or situations that trigger the urge to overeat.
- Substitute a pleasurable or cathartic activity for snacking. This can be phoning a friend, reading a book, writing in a journal.
- Try walking, yoga, cycling or other exercise to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety or to lift your mood.
- Allow yourself occasional treats so that you don’t feel deprived.
- Be kind to yourself. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and don’t forget to also nourish your soul.
- If self-help options are not adequate to keep your emotional eating under control, consider seeking the services of a mental health professional.
Debbie Oberlander is a licensed psychotherapist and registered dietitian working with adolescents, adults and couples. 2001 West Main Street, Stamford, CT 347-844-2007.