How to navigate emotional eating
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What to do if you find yourself eating when you know you are not hungry

“I can’t seem to stop stuffing my face when I get stressed”

“I know I am eating when I am not really hungry, but don’t know how to stop”

“Evenings are lonely and I know I unwind from a tiring day with food”

These are common examples of some of the things our team of Registered Dietitians hear with the clients we serve. In fact, our team would rank emotional eating as one of the top challenges facing those struggling with their health and achievement of their personal best weight. If you find yourself eating when you are not really hungry or in response to stress or other uncomfortable feelings, you are certainly not alone.

Why is emotional eating such a challenge for so many people?

Food and eating patterns change based on a wide range of factors such as:

  • Biologic hunger or physical necessity for food
  • Environmental triggers
  • Social situations
  • Family ritual
  • Income level
  • Emotions and stress level

We all emotional eat sometimes. Even Dietitians. This is because we are not robots that eat solely for the purpose of nourishment, otherwise people would eat a perfectly balanced meal plan at all times.

Some amount of emotional eating is normal and just fine. Emotional eating is only a problem if you know you are regularly stuffing uncomfortable emotions with food and eating in a way that is uncomfortable for you and negatively influencing your health.

We are also wired as humans to seek pleasure and repel pain (researchers call this the “pleasure principle”). If the choice is sitting and tolerating uncomfortable emotions of sadness or anger versus grabbing a piece of cake, many people will choose the cake.

We seek short-term gain over long-term consequences. This means the immediate gratification of watching numbing television while eating potato chips so you don’t have to feel, often trumps considerations about your goals around achieving your personal weight or reducing the risk of diabetes or heart disease.how to navigate emotional eating

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Why do many people struggle with overeating in the evening?

Before assuming you are overeating at night due to emotional reasons, reflect on if you may be physically hungry. Did you eat enough earlier in the day?  I’ve found many people struggling with overeating in the evening are often underfed from restricting their intake earlier in the day. Dieting and skipping meals throughout your day inevitably leads to what I like to refer to as rebound hunger. Your body and brain have been deprived and are looking for extra food.  The best way to fix night eating challenges is to first fix the morning by starting off with a healthy breakfast and eating balanced meals and snacks every 3-5 hours throughout the day. It is only then we can begin to explore if your hunger is related to emotional hunger. Fix the morning before you can fix the evening since everything is connected.

  1. Move from mindless to mindful

When we are stressed, sad or anxious we go about our day on autopilot and can find ourselves mindlessly either under or over eating. Taking one-minute mindful check-ins throughout the day and simply asking yourself, “what do I need?” sounds so basic but profoundly impacts both mental and physical health. Short timeouts and slowing down allows us to assess if our hunger is a physical food need or if we are emotionally hungry.

  1. Eat slower and away from distraction

When you are eating, only eat. Stop multitasking. Honour your body by eating away from the distractions of driving, working on the computer, surfing on your phone or watching TV. Slow down the pace of eating. Take a few deep breaths before eating and pause between bites. Allow yourself to savour your bites and enjoy whatever it is you are eating. Take time to use all your senses to enjoy your meal mindfully (sight, sound, smell, taste and mouthfeel/texture).

  1. Be forgiving

Tackling emotional eating isn’t an event but a process. Be kind and forgiving when you don’t get this right. While there are many practical ways you can help manage foods typically overconsumed, things won’t always go as planned. Practice plating your food in a bowl or on a plate instead of eating out of bags, packages or containers so that your eyes and your stomach connect hunger and satiety cues easier. But if and when this doesn’t work, go easy on yourself, this is a habit that needs to be practiced. It can be lonely and overwhelming to feel the bigger emotions that bubble up when you are no longer stuffing them with food. Learning to tolerate them and also find ways to manage uncomfortable feelings in other ways than food takes practice and time.

What else can I do to stop emotional eating?

Don’t just work with any Registered Psychologist and Registered Dietitian, but find those that specialise in emotional eating and eating disorders. This is because training in eating disorders even though you may not have an eating disorder will allow you to work with someone that is most skilled in navigating the emotional aspects of eating.

Your specialized Dietitian can help you:

  • dive into both the food, nutrition, body and the science of why we weigh what we weigh and how to achieve your personal best weight to help you effectively learn what, when, how much and why to eat for good health.
  • learn to decrease anxiety about hard to manage or fear food, dispel myths and eliminate confusion about trendy foods or dieting behaviour.
  • improve your relationship with ALL foods chosen for both health but also soulful foods chosen for taste, enjoyment, celebration and social fun.
  • understand the many types of hunger and be able to work towards an intuitive eating relationship with food.

Your specialized Psychologist can help you:

  • dig into the deeper answers to the question “what is eating me?”
  • understand the interconnected role of your thoughts, emotions and behaviour surrounding health and eating.
  • work through minor or significant mental health challenges to help you live your best life and shift change.

Where can I find out more information?

Contact us at Health Stand Nutrition www.healthstandnutrition.com to book a nutrition counselling appointment with an experienced Registered Dietitian that specializes in emotional eating or eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder).  We can also recommend our favorite psychologists that we collaborate with regularly that can help support you with behavior change.

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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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