Emotional Eating, Part 4: How to Change Your Eating Patterns Permanently

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 10:30am

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

Would you like to lose weight, have more energy, and feel healthier without eliminating carbs, eating grapefruit all day, or having shakes for meals? Keep in mind that your eating habits and coping behaviors weren’t learned overnight. It took you a long time to adopt your eating patterns and it’s going to take a long time to unlearn them. The best advice when starting any endeavor is to give up perfection and be patient with yourself. If you stray the course here and there, it’s OK. Just continue to press on and learn from your “slip ups”. Here are some behavioral modification tips to help you alter your eating patterns.

Begin with mindful eating - become aware of how, when and where you eat

The first thing you must do in order to meet your health and weight goals is to begin eating more mindfully. If you’re a fast eater, this can be difficult at first, but you must learn to slow down, take care to enjoy every morsel, and try to choose a quiet and peaceful location while you eat. Get out of the car, turn off the TV or computer, and relish in the tastiness of your food. Light a candle and put on some soothing music. It’s amazing how delicious even carrots can taste when we take time to indulge our senses.

Keep a food diary of your eating habits

Another way to stay mindful of your eating habits is by keeping a food diary. A recent study of 685 dieters conducted by a health insurance company concluded that the best predictor of weight loss throughout the participant’s first year was the number of food records kept per week. You should complete your food diary nightly or after each meal. The important things to record are:

  • What you ate,
  • Your hunger level at the time (Famished is a 5, while Very Full is a 0)
  • Feelings you experienced when you ate (e.g. stress, sadness, boredom, anger, loneliness, happiness, etc.) and
  • Portion sizes.

Here’s a food diary form. Over time, your undesirable habits will emerge. Once you’ve identified your problem areas, you can develop a plan to solve them.

Learn new ways of coping with your emotions

The third way you can conquer emotional overeating is to give your body what it’s really craving. Find a passion or gratifying activity to do when you are stressed, lonely, bored, or sad. There are many food alternatives available that provide calm and relaxation, and they’re much healthier for your body. Here are some suggestions:

  • Listen to a relaxation tape
  • Take a long walk
  • Read a favorite book
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Listen to soothing music in a candlelit room
  • Write in a journal
  • Pick up an old hobby
  • Call a friend

Practicing these activities or engaging in your own individual interests releases calming neurotransmitters.

Indulge in healthy foods, cccasionally

A fourth way to cope with cravings is to indulge – just a little bit – in foods that don’t cause blood sugar spikes and lows. Certain foods stabilize blood sugar levels and fill you up, which can diminish cravings for high calorie, high sugar, and high fat foods. Some good foods to try:

  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Whole fruits (not juice)
  • Raw vegetables
  • Popcorn (no butter)

It can also be helpful to have some protein-rich foods like as milk, cheese, peanut butter, or yogurt with the foods above. Combining small portions of high protein foods with high carbohydrate foods can minimize cravings. Another way to break out of the sugar high/low cycle is to modify your eating patterns by having several small healthy snacks throughout the day rather than two or three large meals.

Becoming aware of what, when, how and why you eat can help to lose weight

  1. Slow down. Remember to be mindful about your food choices and eating habits.
  2. Be patient with yourself. Changing behaviors is a long process, but it is also long-lasting.
  3. Expect to slip up. Don’t even entertain the idea of perfection. If there were no mistakes, there’d be nothing to learn from. If you “blow it” today, make a plan for tomorrow that includes solutions to the difficulties.
  4. Determine your overeating cues. If you’re overeating often – you’re just putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Try to determine the root cause of what’s eating you by following the recommendations above. Seek out professional help if needed.
  5. Motivation follows action. That is, getting motivated to change your eating patterns isn’t going to hit you someday. You must act first. When you see results, you will be motivated to continue.
  6. You can do this!