Actual hunger (and thirst) is when the body needs calories, nutrients (or water), versus emotional/hormonal hunger, which is when you are eating to cover up the way you feel emotionally (depressed/bored) or balance out some hormonal issue that was caused by unhealthy eating/activity, like a blood sugar (insulin) crash.
People tend to eat for comfort in certain situations, like when you are stressed or bored, so those are the times to raise your red flags and check in with yourself as to whether you actually need calories because it has been a few hours since you ate, or if you are just mindlessly stuffing your face.
In the moment, ask yourself this question: What am I really hungry for? Your answer may surprise you. Sometimes it’s fun we lack, or activity, or love, not calories. If your life isn’t satisfying you will be looking for this in food. Just by starting to notice this more and more you will naturally start to address the real hunger and over time this noticing will turn into your discipline.
Strategy: Deal With Emotions Directly. Eating Won’t Make Them Go Away.
Another major piece of this issue is a deeply embedded, but hidden belief that food can somehow make our stresses and problems go away by momentarily relieving some of the symptoms (stress, upset, worry, boredom, etc.). Our perception of time is often minuscule, seeing only the comfort in the next moment, but remaining blind to the crash, guilt and other negative emotions and physical realities that come with emotional binge eating. Unhealthy “comfort” foods lead you down a different path than the one you chose when you were in your natural state of mind. For some foods can even become a substance for regular abuse and addiction, just like drugs and alcohol.
In order to curtail emotional eating we need to break the belief that unhealthy foods (fatty/sugary) will solve the problem by making us feel better right now. Replace it with its opposite: Addressing your issues head on will solve your underlying problems starting by eating well to make yourself feel better all day.
Strategy: Get unhealthy snacks out of reach and stay busy all day with planned meal/snack breaks
Another reason people over eat is because of habits, such as eating every time you come home, or before you go to bed or always having cookies after lunch, etc. These routine habits can act in the same way as emotional eating and send you over your limits. Remember food is fuel but you don’t need a continual hook-up to the gas line, eg. constant snacking or “grazing”. First you must, get the snack foods out of arms reach at work and at home, they need to be portioned. Second, stay busy, busy, busy so food isn’t continually coming to mind and have planned meal/snack breaks to thwart of the grazing effect.
Strategy: Slow Down & Really Enjoy Your Healthy Meals
Your body can only do so many things at once. Your digestion shuts off when you are distracted, causing a disconnect between your gut and your brain. Your brain doesn’t realize that you ate, which causes dissatisfaction, false hunger, and a cycle of overeating. Eat your meals seated at a table and give yourself adequate time to enjoy each bite. Always be present while eating which means actually paying attention to how food tastes, being curious about what is in it, how it smells, how it looks, etc.
We label many unhealthy meals and drinks as so enjoyable, and comforting but a lot of that is just our mental construct around it. So many healthy foods are emotionally satisfying as well as physically so beef up your enjoyment of the healthy meals by savoring them.
Strategy: Monitor Your Cravings & Triggers
You cannot possibly be disciplined about your emotional eating if you don’t know what you crave, when you crave it or what your emotional triggers are for the craving. The first one or two triggers for emotional eating might be very obvious but there are going to be a few triggers that you are likely not as aware of. If you are food journaling consistently then it is easy to look back through the weeks and see when you ate those foods or read your notes about how you felt at the times that you broke from healthy eating.