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Emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. It often leads to eating too much, especially too much of high-calorie, sweet and fatty foods.

The good news is that if you are prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.

The connection between mood, food and weight loss

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. These triggers might include:

- Relationship conflicts
- Work stress
- Fatigue
- Financial pressures
- Health problems

Although some people eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you are in emotional distress you might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever's convenient without enjoyment.

In fact, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you are angry or stressed without thinking about what you are doing.

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually.

- Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you are physically hungry, almost anything sounds good including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush.

- Emotional hunger often leads to regret or guilt. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you are unlikely to feel guilty because you are simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it is likely because you know deep down that you are not eating for nutritional reasons.

How to know if you are an emotional eater?

- Do you eat more when you are feeling stressed or sad?
- Do you eat when you are not hungry or when you are full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you are sad, bored, anxious, etc.)?

If any answer is yes, you are an emotional eater.

 How to stop emotional eating?

Learn to manage your stress.
If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, swimming etc.

Don't deprive yourself.
When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories, eat the same foods repeatedly and banish treats. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables or unbuttered popcorn. -

Have a hunger reality check.
Before eating anything, ask yourself "Is my hunger physical or emotional?" - Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you are bored, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behavior.

Take away temptation.
Don't keep hard-to- resist comfort foods in your home.  

Learn to satisfy your hunger with caffeinated.
If you are exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea / coffee.

5 steps to mindful eating

Mindful eating is choosing foods that give you both enjoyment and nourishment. It is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it.

1. Begin with your shopping list.
Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you are shopping.

2. Come to the table with an appetite—but not when ravenously hungry.
If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.

3. Start with a small portion.
It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.

4. Take small bites.
It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.

5. Chew thoroughly.
Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food.

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Written by Sapna Vyas Patel , PhD in Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Sapna writes simple, easy to understand articles that are based on pure scientific evidence. She is one of the most popular fitness professionals in India and is followed on social media by fitness enthusiasts, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, trainers, and professionals.

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