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Getting Over Overeating

5 ways to help break the emotional eating cycle
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Experts estimate that 75% of us overeat not because we are hungry, but rather in response to feelings. And when our eating is spurred by emotions, we tend to consume mostly junk food.

What's a person to do in our food-centric society? Do we need more willpower to overcome the food images that surround us everywhere we go? How do we resist the temptation to "supersize" when the price is so appealing?

Food as a Coping Mechanism

Eating is so much more than satisfying hunger. We eat for many reasons, from meeting our basic nutritional needs to celebrating with friends and family. We eat when we are lonely, unhappy, stressed, or because of poor self-esteem. Some of us are closet eaters who overeat when everyone else is in bed. As children, we learned that food can bring comfort -- at least temporarily -- and we still turn to food for reassurance.

Emotional eaters use food to nurture a deeper, emotional need. Their emotional attachment to food becomes a crutch to help them cope with everyday stressors. People who use food to heal emotions usually do so when they're not feeling good about themselves, and the result is usually unwanted weight gain. The excess weight leads to more negative feelings, triggering the cycle over and over again.

Why Do We Overeat?

If you can identify the things that trigger your overeating, you can learn to substitute healthful behaviors that help you manage emotional issues without overeating.

Certain situations tend to trigger emotional eating. You were doing fine until:

  • You went to the family reunion.
  • You went on vacation.
  • Your mother kept pushing food onto your plate.
  • You were so bored.
  • You were celebrating your anniversary.
  • You quit smoking.
  • It was that time of the month.
  • You were having a migraine.
  • You broke up with your boyfriend.

And the list goes on and on. You need to be able to identify your own personal triggers that push you to overeat so you can break the cycle and eat in response to hunger, not feelings.

Breaking The Cycle

Identifying eating triggers is the first step. Now, you have to break the emotional eating habit and adopt healthier habits to keep you from using food to soothe yourself. Here are some more beneficial (and calorie-free) behaviors that can help you break free of emotional eating.

1. Exercise. Not only does exercise burn calories, but it also helps relieve those anxious feelings. A brisk walk will help you pound your troubles into the pavement while releasing endorphins, natural substances in your body that can help elevate your mood. Some experts recommend that you start with eight to 10 minutes of exercise when you first get out of bed. The early-morning endorphin rush can help you get through the day.

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