The 3 Week Diet

True Hunger vs Emotional Eating: Tips from Madelyn Fernstrom, Gail Saltz


Emotional eating can really sabotage a diet or a weight management efforts. If you have experienced urges to eat that go against your best judgment — to say nothing of your diet plan! — you know that uncomfortable feeling of disappointment and discouragement that can follows when you have overindulged. It is not an uncommon problem — as so many of us have had those moments! So what can we do if we don’t want to be at the mercy of our emotions? After all, we can’t quit eating as we would quit smoking.

Really, we can’t have too many tips and pointers as we navigate in a world with much too much high calorie processed food tempting us. So here are some from Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. and Gail Saltz, M.D.from a Nov. 11, 2011 segment on The Today Show (video above). Both are frequent contributors to the show; Dr. Fernstrom is author of The Real You Diet: Your Personal Program for Lasting Weight Loss, and Dr. Saltz is author of Becoming Real: Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back.

First of all, they note, it’s important to identify what is the difference between true hunger, driven by biological need and signaled by the brain and the urge to eat which Dr. Saltz points out is driven by our emotional state. Feeling anxious or bored are emotional drivers for eating. On the other hand, real hunger means you may be feeling fatigued, your stomach may feel empty and growl. You might even feel a slight headache. At this point you need to eat. These are brain signals. But what happens is we confuse the need to eat — which is biological — with wanting to eat which is something else entirely.

She goes on to note the gratification that food can bring us. The food does taste good. But there is guilt and shame with emotional eating. You feel good in the moment and then afterward you may have negative feelings, and that drives more emotional eating.

So what can be done to get out of this trap? Fernstrom and Saltz outline strategies as follows.

Keep a food and feelings journal. Do a mood check. You need to connect what you are eating and why. Need to take a step back. Be accountable to yourself. When you see it in writing you can see which emotion triggers your eating the most.

Avoid skipping meals. It’s important to create some structure as skipping a meal means sending biological signals awry and you wont know if you are hungry or not.

Assess if you are content. There’s full and there is overfull. Contentment is also a factor. You have to get in touch with that feeling to help keep you from going overboard.

Cope by engaging in activity that does not involve eating. When the urge to eat — versus the need to eat — becomes difficult because of interfering emotions, they recommend finding some activities to help relieve the feelings. Taking a bath, listening to a relaxing song, going for a walk or some other calming activity.

Eat low calorie foods to satisfy the emotional urges. Eating something that’s less than 150 calories can also help. It might be something like a salad, or herbal tea to give the satisfaction of eating without overindulging and consuming too many calories to maintain or lose weight.

Getting immersed in activity and eating plenty of low calorie healthy foods have helped me a great deal over the years. Eating healthy foods in their whole, natural state and completely getting rid of processed foods that are full of fat sugar and salt has also helped cut cravings. Aside from emotions and stress it is undeniable that these unhealthy foods can induce cravings and overeating, as Dr. David Kessler so clearly outlined in his bestselling book, The End of Overeating and as studies are showing these cravings and addictions can be as severe as drug addictions.

Please let us know in the comments section the tips that are helping you distinguish true hunger from emotional eating.

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