It’s called “comfort food” for a reason, as some foods evoke happy memories and help relieve stress. But comfort foods are typically energy-dense, high-fat, and sweets, such as chocolate, ice cream, and French fries. They provide pleasure or temporarily make us feel better and people tend to seek “comfort food” during periods of stress.
However, healthy eating habits depend on knowing the difference between an occasional indulgence and emotional eating, which is when we use food to make ourselves feel better. When you notice yourself reaching for snacks when you aren’t hungry, it might be time to consider whether you’re eating emotionally. But fulfilling that comfort craving and sticking to your health goals don’t have to be two different things. Fortunately, there are ways to stay on track with healthy eating habits. Here are some tips to try.
- Use a food journal
write down what you eat throughout the day to stay mindful of the food you’re using to fuel your body.It is important to be honest about what you’re eating and how much. You could even make notes about your moods before meals or snacks, which will provide additional context around your relationship with food.
- Get moving
Exercise is a foundational part of a healthy lifestyle. It can also serve as a distraction from cravings, so try going for a quick walk the next time you have the urge to snack mindlessly.
- Consider your hunger
Are you actually hungry, or do you just want food? Is your stomach rumbling? Become more aware of what your body needs, as opposed to what you want out of boredom or anxiety.
- Eliminate mindless eating
Whenever possible, eat without other distractions, like the TV or your phone. That way you can give your full attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. You’ll notice when you’re starting to feel full, which makes it easier to stop eating once you’re satiated.
- Find a partner
Developing healthy eating habits can be a lot of fun if you have someone helping you out on your journey. You can eat meals together, swap recipes, and hold one another accountable.
- Don’t overthink
When you focus on dieting, counting calories, or depriving yourself of foods that are “bad,” it’s much harder to make healthier choices. You become stressed and overwhelmed, which takes the joy out of eating. Don’t be afraid to let go and enjoy your favorite foods every once in a while. If you enjoy them mindfully and without guilt, you’ll be one step closer to gaining control of your eating.
- Explore other foods and snacks
If you always reach for cookies when you’re feeling sad, or chips when you’re bored, try to find a new, healthier alternative, such as fruits or vegetables. This can help break the emotional connection you have to some of your go-to snacks, and you may discover new favorites in the process.
- Celebrate small victories
Building good eating habits should not fill you with despair because you think it’s too big of a challenge. Just take it one step at a time. As you learn how to keep your cravings under control, be proud of yourself for putting in the hard work it takes to develop new habits.
The next time you feel stressed, you might say to yourself, “I’m upset, but if I eat to calm myself, I’ll feel even worse after I eat, too. Instead, I’ll go for a walk so I can calm down and feel better.”It may take a combination of approaches to stop unhealthy eating, but becoming aware of the problem is a good first step to breaking the cycle.