Gain Control


by REX // April · May · June 2016

Do you ever feel like your emotions override your rational thoughts after a long or difficult day? Do you catch yourself reaching for food that is warm, sweet, and full of fat when you’re stressed, tired, or upset? Or how about when you’re bored or happy? If so, you’re not alone. Most Americans have a relationship with food that goes beyond nourishment. We may logically know we should avoid eating par-ticular foods or portion sizes, but we still do it.

Emotional eating” is defined as eating in response to a feeling rather than hunger and is sometimes called “emotional hunger.” We eat when we’re stressed, depressed, anxious, or frustrated. We also eat to cele-brate. The main issue is not only what we’re eating, but how much. You don’t really hear people say, “I had an awful day. All I want is a big spinach salad.” Instead we go to the extremes – those cookies in the cabinet, the doughnut shop down the road, a bowl of salty chips with dip. This can lead to weight gain when in excess. So, how do we break the cycle of emotional eating?


The key to controlling emotional eating is to learn why you reach for these foods in the first place. Do any of these triggers apply to you?
Social: Eating when others are around, others encouraging you to eat, eating to fit in.
Emotional: Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, etc.
Situational: Eating because the opportunity is there; restaurant; watching TV; going to a movie, sporting event, etc.
Thoughts: Negative self-worth, appearance, lack of will power.


You’ve identified your triggers – now what? The next step is to adopt new and healthy habits. Instead of reaching for your comfort food, try the following: take a walk; wait 10 minutes (often times, we move on to doing something else and forget); talk to a friend; keep a food journal with a space for writing down your feelings; drink a glass of water or hot tea; listen to music; remove yourself from the situation; and eliminate trigger foods from your home or office.


It is also important to use mindfulness, which means being aware of what is present for you mentally, emotionally, and physically in each moment. “Mindful eating” acknowledges responses to food (likes, dislikes, neutrals) and helps recognize feelings of physical hunger and satiety clues. This is done with full attention to each bite and experiencing no distractions, such as the Internet or television. Mindful eating has been shown to have a positive impact on weight management and the benefits of this practice extend to emotional and physical health as well.


For instance, become aware of your “fullness cue” – the point at which you have had enough to eat; eat only until you are comfortably full; and develop a healthy relationship with food.

It is important not to let yourself get too hungry. Try not to go more than four to five hours between meals.
Ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are trying to satisfy an emotion, such as feeling lonely, bored, or are just simply eating out of habit. It is best to focus on the satisfaction factor. Get in tune with your body’s signals of comfortable fullness.

Before you begin your meal, rate your hunger/fullness level on a scale of 0 to 10 :
1 – Ravenous, weak, low energy, grouchy.
2 – Uncomfortably hungry, preoccupied with thinking of food, your stomach is growling.
3 – Feeling very hungry with a strong urge to eat now.
4 – Feel a little hungry; can wait to eat, but will need to eat soon.
5 – Neutral: you feel satisfied, not hungry and not full.
6 – Feel like you ate a snack, could still eat one or two more bites.
7 – Comfortably full, hunger is gone, you feel like you just ate a solid meal.
8 – Very full, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”
9 – You are stuffed and pretty uncomfortable, ate way more than you should have.
10 – Extremely uncomfortable, possibly painful, and beginning to feel sick or like your body could burst.

Practice starting to eat at level 4 – before it gets to level 3. Avoid eating at level 6 or 7 on the scale so you can become aware of what a comfortable fullness feels like.


– Eat only at the kitchen table.
– Turn off the TV, computer, and phone while eating.
– Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself before you begin to eat.
– Drink some water before you start eating.
– Eat slowly and thoroughly chew each bite, putting your fork or spoon down between bites. Wait until you completely swallow each bite before you pick up your utensil to eat the next one, and as you chew, notice the texture and the taste of the food. Pause in the middle of your meal and rate your fullness level – you don’t have to end your meal at this point, but this is a good time to check in with your body and taste buds.
– Pay attention to the signals that your stomach is giving you. For instance, are you still hungry, or is your hunger going away? Do you feel unsatisfied, or are you beginning to feel satisfied?

Instead of labeling foods as good or bad, remember to enjoy food and savor each bite so that foods are not associated with feelings of guilt. Like any habit, breaking the emotional eating cycle can be challenging. Don’t expect success overnight and don’t expect to be perfect every day. If you find yourself resorting to old habits, acknowledge it and move on. Tomorrow is a new day!


For more information on healthy eating, contact REX Nutrition Services at 919-784-3419 or the REX Bariatric Specialists at 919-784-7874.