It's been a bad day at work. The kids have been misbehaving all day. You're stressed. How do you deal with it? Maybe by gobbling an extra piece of fried chicken? Or reaching into the bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television? Perhaps by snuggling up with a container of ice cream and spoon in bed? We've all caught ourselves giving into emotional eating.
And yet we also know that we can't lose weight without limiting the calories that pass our lips. So how do you move beyond emotional eating -- using food to fix feelings of anxiety, anger, or frustration? And how do you keep your kids from falling into the same trap?
Emotional eating tends to be a habit, and like any habit can be broken. It may be difficult, especially if you've been doing it a long time, but it is possible.
Weight problems often run in families, so the easiest way to tackle emotional eating is together as a family. It's unrealistic to expect an overweight child to stop binge-eating snacks and junk food when other people in the household are doing the same thing.
Here are four tips to help you and your family curb emotional eating.
1. Set up a healthy home environment.
Start with the obvious: If there is no junk food in the house, you can't binge on it. Instead, keep unprocessed, low-calorie, low-fat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, hummus, and unbuttered popcorn available for munching.
Kids learn by watching adults, so parents need to set the example and create a healthier food environment.
Take a look at your refrigerator and pantry.
Before going grocery shopping, heading to a restaurant, or calling for pizza delivery, take a breather, go for a walk, and wait until your emotions are in check.
2. Identify what's triggering emotional eating.
The next time you reach for comfort food, ask yourself, "Why do I want this candy bar? Am I really hungry?" If not, try to identify what emotions you are feeling. Are you stressed, angry, bored, scared, sad, lonely? Keeping a food diary -- a written record of what, how much, and when you eat -- may help you see patterns in your binge eating and connections between mood and food.
Talk with your overweight children to find out what's going on in their personal lives. Ask about school, friends, and general attitudes. Do they have a positive or negative view about the way life is going? Being aware of the underlying social and emotional issues will help you guide them to make better choices.
Sometimes, an outside perspective allows an "aha!" moment that lights the path for change. If you're having trouble controlling your emotional eating, don't be afraid to seek the help of a mental health professional. Although professional counseling or psychotherapy might not be comfortable for elementary school children, it can help you or older kids figure out what's motivating emotional eating and offer help for eating disorders.