Emotional Eating: You’re Not Alone and How to Prevent It

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Are you an emotional eater? Perhaps you reach for the ice cream when you’re stressed out from work. Or maybe you go for seconds at dinner when you and your main squeeze just had a tiff. Don’t worry, you’re not alone according to a new study.

In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that when there is a perception of tough times, people tend to seek higher-calorie foods that will keep them satisfied longer.

Researchers invited study subjects to join in a taste test for a new kind of M&M. Half the participants were given a bowl of the new candy and were told that the secret ingredient was a new, high-calorie chocolate. The other half of the participants also received a bowl of M&Ms but were told the new chocolate was low-calorie. All of the participants were told that they could sample the product in order to complete a taste test evaluation form.

In reality, there was no difference in the candy both groups were asked to sample.

The researchers were actually measuring how much participants consumed after they were exposed to posters containing either neutral sentences or sentences related to struggle and adversity. Those who were subconsciously primed to think about struggle and adversity ate closer to 70% more (!) of the “higher-calorie” candy vs. the “lower-calorie” option, while those primed with neutral words did not significantly differ in the amount of M&M’s consumed.

So obviously there’s something in us that can influence us to make some bad choices when we’re stressing out. However, there are are few things you can do to avoid those bad choices too!

A few tips from us at Healthy Fit for Women:

  • Try some Yoga! The breathing exercises in yoga can help you learn to control your breathing, and return your body’s nervous system back to its normal, rest and relaxed state.
  • Distract Yourself. Instead snacking, try going for a walk to help clear your head, or pick up a book to help you focus on something else for a little while. Even better — call a friend and vent it out.
  • Get Rid of Temptations. If that pint of ice cream isn’t in the freezer, what are the odds you’re going to make a special trip to the store just buy it? You can’t eat it, if you don’t buy it!
  • Reach for Something Healthy. If you absolutely feel the need to snack, grab some fruit and veggies! Comfort foods don’t have to be unhealthy.
  • Keep a Food Journal. Learn what triggers your hunger by writing down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling, and how hungry you are. The Mayo Clinic says that overtime, this may help you see patterns that reveal the connection between mood or food.
  • Don’t Get Upset with Yourself. If you do happen to give in, and we all do from time to time, don’t beat yourself up over it, instead, give yourself credit for recognizing the unhealthy behavior and focus on the positive changes you can make the next time you’re feeling down.


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