How to avoid emotional eating

This time of year, we are supposed to be counting our blessing and enjoying quality time with our families. Expectations are amped up. High calorie food and drink is in abundance, especially when the kids are going crazy in the kitchen and there is literally food every hour on the hour.  Time to get to the gym, exercise class or just take a walk is in short supply. Despite that, what if we could not only avoid emotional eating during the holidays but build skills that we could use throughout the rest of the year?

We can start by letting go of our expectations. Most of us go into the holiday season with a whole set of assumptions about how things are going to go. We get anxious just thinking about the time necessary for shopping for food and gifts, the amount of money we will spend on everything and how other people will behave or react to us. That is before we even step out the door or dig the holiday decorations out of the basement. This anxiety leads us to ignore our physical cues – including hunger and fullness, need for sleep and desire to exercise. 

Expectations of positive outcomes can become equally as problematic, if we are disappointed when they are not met. Every time you notice your mind going to an expectation that something will happen a certain way – positive or negative – let it go and focus on being in the present moment. Feel your feet on the floor or your seat in your chair. Feel your abdomen fill up with breath. Say to yourself what you are doing in the present moment. For instance, “I am sitting here reading a blog now.”

The stories we tell ourselves based on expectations fuel our anxiety and increase our likelihood of eating something to make us feel better or just because it’s there. When you hear yourself telling stories in your head – perhaps replaying a previous holiday experience – breathe and as you feel your belly fill up with breath say to yourself, “Feeling full of love/peace/gratitude this holiday season.” 

Recognize that you might be telling yourself a story just to label a situation or file some feelings away. It would be better to just “be” with the uncomfortable feelings then to stuff them away with a story and then use food, or alcohol to feel better. A personal example for me would be holiday parties that I am expected to attend, which put me out of my introverted comfort zone. I might tell myself a story about how those parties went in previous years, and how I would rather be home in pajamas. But instead of asking myself why I don’t want to go or how I might make the best of it, I put my feelings in the “uncomfortable holiday party” compartment, attend the party and eat a lot of food I don’t even want or like just to get through it. If something like this happens for you, I have an alternative. 

Put your hand on your belly and ask your gut for a check on what your feeling. Practice being with the discomfort, if you have some. If it's an upcoming event, visualise yourself beforehand in the situation of "being" with the discomfort. And when you are surrounded by tempting food, check in with yourself. Are you really hungry for something to eat? Instead of eating the food you don't really want (or need), breathe; you'll be home before too long.  


This article was written by Nancy Popkin. Nancy is a Health Coach who works with clients via phone and Skype to heal their relationship with food. She helps busy people maintain their energy, achieve balance and love their bodies using a combination of proven food changes and lifestyle tools and practices customized to each individual. Visit her at

photo by Adrianna Calve

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