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Common Triggers of Mindless Munching

From our first spoonful of cereal as an infant to our second piece of pie at Christmas dinner, food provides us all with comfort – at least in the short term. So it should come as no surprise that a huge majority of us eat – and overeat – in response to our emotions, rather than hunger. Recognizing the emotional triggers behind your binge eating,  is the first step on the path to learning healthier ways to deal with emotions and countering the weight gain experienced by regular overeaters.

Five Common Triggers

The situations and emotions that cause people to overeat fall into these general categories:

1.Social Settings. People eat to fit in, in response to pressure from others, or as an expression of insecurity.

2.Emotional overeating. About 75 percent of overeating can be traced to emotions, including boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety and loneliness.

3.Opportunity. Sometimes people eat simply because the opportunity arises, such as snacking on doughnuts during the office meeting. Eating also is frequently associated with activities like parties, watching TV or going to the movies.

4.Negative thoughts. Closely tied to emotions, people binge when they are feeling depressed, then make excuses for continuing to overeat, telling themselves that they are a bad person who has no will power.

5.Physical hunger. Unhealthy practices such as skipping breakfast or lunch often lead to overeating later in the day.

To determine your personal triggers, keep a food diary recording what and when you eat, as well as the thoughts and feelings you’re having at the time. Within a couple of weeks you should be able to identify your won overeating patterns. Then it’s time to develop alternatives to eating whenever one of your triggers is activated. Try:

ü  Reading

ü  Exercising

ü  Going for a walk

ü  Listening to music

ü  Playing cards or board games

ü  Doing puzzles such as crosswords or Sudokus

ü  Taking up a hobby that keeps your hands busy, such as needlework or woodworking

ü  Doing housework or yard work

ü  Practicing deep breathing exercises

ü  Talking to friends and family

When these steps aren’t enough to control your urge to overeat, it’s time to try relaxation exercises, individual counseling and/or support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous. As you learn to control your emotional eating, don’t forget to give yourself a non-food-related reward when you meet your goals to keep your motivation high.

From “Your HealthStyle”, October 2006.