Do you turn to food when you fight with your boss, eat a few extra rotis after an uncomfortable situation with your mother-in-law, or stop by at the ice cream parlour after trying to balance your cheque book?Eating is an outlet to deal with emotions and avoid problems – a way to deal with stress. This type of eating causes unhealthy calorie intake and moreover, it makes you feel worse than you did before you began eating.

How do you come out of this viscous cycle?

Here are a few steps:

1. Understand what emotional eating is. A broad definition is – feeling you are not in control when eating. It is many time a way to deal with stress. You have consumed calories of the wrong foods(most likely you were not bingeing on salad). In the end you are angry at yourself because you had vowed not to eat in that way again, but it invariably happens again.

2. Identify why you overeat. Many eat to replace something missing in their life, sometimes relationships, sometimes money – hoping to feel happy temporarily with food. Whatever the reason, food cannot be a replacement. Many mindlessly snack to avoid difficult situations. You could be keeping away from a problem at college or there could be a more deep rooted psychological problem that occurred earlier in life, and you face those negative emotions often with food. Identify the triggers and you will be in a better position to change them. On the weekends, at night, at home, in the office? Figure out when and where of the equation. Take the time to understand them. A food log where you write down what you eat and how much comes in handy. In the same log add a column for how you were feeling while you’re eating.

Habits like these are difficult to change but after understanding the triggers of emotional eating it will be easier to curb it.

3. Begin the changes. After knowing the triggers, make a conscious effort to know when they will strike and take necessary steps to combat them. You must make space between the trigger and your reaction to them.

4. Emotional eating is a complex subject and there are many ways to tackle the problem. Relieving your stress is the first step you need to take to defeat it. The following are a few ways to reduce stress and thwart eating needlessly.

1. Breath. Usually when you go through an emotional response to stress heart rates increase as does breathing. Take a step back and take some deep long breaths. This will give you time to think and bring yourself back to normal. You can mull over taking that bite.

2. Exercise. This may sound implausible but it works. Just by doing small activities such as walking around the office or stretching your body before taking that bite will help you recover from a bout of bingeing. Exercise is a mood booster and you will be reminded of the importance of your health.

3. Call a friend. Instead of turning to food for comfort, turn to family and friends. Girls know how many times they have cried on their girlfriends’ shoulders and this is another time to do just that. So make a call before bingeing on those chips. Men are less inclined to talk, but please guys do start a dialogue with someone – it helps.

4. Listen to music. Whether it is pop, classical, Hindi or English, put on your favourite tunes.

5. Play with your pet. Animals soothe and give unconditional love.

6. Go online. Post on the many online forums which help you with emotional eating.

7. Develop a hobby. If boredom is the reason you overeat then find something enjoyable to do.

8. Comfort activity. Do something you like to, even it is just sitting on the balcony with a cup of tea and a book, visiting old friends, or watching old movies. Doing these comfort activities will relieve stress.

Published in Pune Mirror, June 13, 2011