Do you blindly turn to food as a source of comfort when you're feeling upset? Since emotional overeating doesn't provide any lasting satisfaction and can lead to health problems, it's far better to find other ways to deal with the stresses of daily life. That's the premise of a book out this month, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food (New Harbinger Publications). "People are often running from their emotions," says the author, psychologist Susan Albers. "If we knew that we could cope with our feelings, we'd be less likely to turn to food." The trick is to consciously substitute something "healthy and calorie free" for sweets when you feel the urge to soothe your nerves.
[Consider 4 easy ways to prevent mindless eating.]
Albers divides techniques that emotional eaters can use to avoid seeking comfort in food into five skill areas: mindfulness techniques, strategies to calm and relax your body, strategies to change your thoughts, finding distractions, and gaining support. Taking a mindful approach involves paying close attention to your eating patterns and circumstances that make you most vulnerable to emotional eating. And relaxation strategies can ease the discomfort and anxiety that may lead to emotional eating in the first place, Albers says. She shared 10 examples of good ways to avoid emotional eating:
Try blogging or signing up for Facebook or MySpace. Blogging is a modern form of journaling, long recognized as a constructive outlet for emotions in turmoil, says Albers. Also, since blogging and social networking sites are, by their nature, interactive, "you really have to think about how your readers are going to respond to what you're writing," she says. "It makes you feel like you're not alone."
Squeeze bubble wrap. Sometimes, a mindless repetitive action really is what your nerves need. This is one that Albers calls one of the "simple pleasures of life." It's guilt free, cathartic, and "it's kind of fun."
Volunteer. Working on projects for the good of other people "helps you to get out of your own mind and experience" and can put your own troubles into perspective. "When you're focusing on someone else's experiences, it distracts from what you're feeling," Albers says. And it often provides a natural high.
Be a realist instead of a perfectionist. "When we set unrealistic expectations, we feel unhappy," Albers says. Instead, set realistic expectations and enjoy a sense of accomplishment as those goals are achieved.
Build up a regular sweat. "Exercise is a wonderful way to calm and soothe our bodies," Albers says.
Be your own masseuse. Try using a tennis ball to soothe the bottom of your foot while you're sitting at your desk, for instance, or rub your temples and scalp.
Head for the mall. The act of going shopping is distracting, and getting an errand accomplished or buying a little something can provide gratification that might otherwise come from emotional eating. (A cautionary note: Some people may be at risk of developing a shopping addiction.)
Make a "bucket list." The idea of making a list of things to do before you die was popularized by the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Doing this "takes your focus away from food and makes you think about what is it that really is going to make you happy," Albers says.
Explore cyberspace. It's easy to lose lots of time while searching online. In this case, that's beneficial, Albers says. "People talk about how they're Googling something and then all of the sudden an hour has gone by," she says. Luckily, "it's hard to type and eat at the same time."
Let your furry friend give you unconditional love. When the humans in your life are stressing you out, get away from the fridge and accept some attention from your pet.