Dealing with Emotional Eating and Anxiety

hunger pains

By Susan Furtado, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Anxiety can trigger emotional eating. There is a good reason for this. When we make a list of signs of hunger – a gnawing; empty feeling in the stomach, rapid heart rate, feeling irritable, we realize that they are identical to some of the symptoms of anxiety. So it makes sense that we eat when anxious, trying to relieve what we sometimes mistakenly interpret as hunger. But this can set a vicious cycle in motion. When we realize that we’ve eaten inappropriately, we only feel more anxious.

Here are two ways to practice working with anxiety:

  1. Investigate anxiety and its antidotes

Anxiety is so pervasive that we may not realize we are anxious. It can be helpful to track anxiety for one week. How does it manifest in your body? Do you tighten your brow or facial muscles when the tension mounts? How does anxiety manifest in your mind? Racing thoughts? Do you have a sudden desire to eat?

You can check your anxiety level at intervals during the day. If anxiety is present, stop and practice a few moments of mindful breathing, Anxiety can make breathing quick and shallow, so you might try slower and deeper breaths. Move your awareness as far as possible from the anxiety-producing thoughts in your head by shifting your awareness to the bottom of your feet and the solid ground beneath them. Imagine breathing out anxiety and breathing in peace and mind.

     2.  Separate anxiety from hunger

When you feel unexpectedly hungry, check internally and ask your body, “Is this true hunger or is it actually anxiety?” If it is anxiety, eating may make it worse. When we realize that our true need is not for comfort food, we can make another choice. We can “feed” and comfort ourselves in many different ways; we can call a friend, drink a cup of herbal tea, take a walk in nature, play with a dog or cat, rest your eyes on something pleasing, listen to a soothing piece of music, or do a few minutes of mediation. You can make your own list of “non-food comforting snacks” that relieve anxiety for you.


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