Many overweight and obese individuals use eating as a means to relieve stress, reduce boredom and improve mood.

However, as stated in the August issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource, emotional eating often leads to eating too much.

Researchers have found that individuals have a tendency to eat especially high-calorie, sweet, salty and fatty foods.

Another finding is that women are especially prone to emotional eating — and then feel guiltier and less healthy than men do after snacking on “forbidden” foods.

According to the experts, the connection between stress and eating likely has roots in brain chemistry. Faced with a real threat, the fight-or-flight reaction kicks in and suppresses appetite temporarily.

But when faced with persistent stress — health problems, difficult relationships or too much work — many people turn to high-fat, high-calorie foods for comfort. Using food as a coping strategy doesn’t alleviate stress and will likely cause weight gain.

Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers these suggestions to understand and overcome emotional eating:

  • Learn to recognize true hunger. A craving for chips or cookies soon after a meal is likely an emotional hunger, not real hunger.
  • Identify the food triggers. Keeping a journal can help identify patterns in emotional eating, including emotions and feelings when eating; what and how much was eaten; and feelings after eating.
  • Look elsewhere for comfort. Instead of grabbing a candy bar, take a walk, call a friend, listen to music, read or treat yourself to a movie.
  • Manage stress in a healthy way. The goal is to lower stress with healthful strategies, including regular exercise, adequate rest and support from friends and family.
  • Practice mindful eating. Mindfulness is a way of paying focused attention without judgment. Applied to eating, this technique can help increase awareness of the sensations, feelings and thoughts connected with food and eating.
  • Toss out the unhealthy foods. Avoid stocking the cupboard or refrigerator with high-calorie comfort foods. Consider more healthful comfort foods such as a bowl of tomato soup or a cup of tea.
  • Eat a balanced diet and healthy snacks. Between meals, opt for low-fat, low-calorie snacks such as fresh fruit and unbuttered popcorn.

Source: Mayo Clinic