To an extent, we are all emotional eaters. From the day we are born, food is linked with love, comfort and safety. As we get older, our families and culture implant ideas about food and celebrations, food and feelings, food and guilt. It is impossible to completely separate food from the things it is besides fuel for our bodies, and really, we wouldn't want to. Taste, touch and smell and sight are all engaged by our food, and eating well is a wonderful experience, as long as we don't convince ourselves to feel bad about it.
However, many of us use food in inappropriate ways, mistakenly trying to meet our emotional needs with physical food. This leaves us feeling badly and impacts our health negatively. It becomes an vicious cycle: we eat, we feel bad about it, we eat more to stop feeling bad, etc.
The first step to stopping this cycle is conscious thought. When suddenly hit with a food craving that's not physical hunger, we need to stop long enough to recognize that it's not food we really need or want in that moment. Then, we need to supply ourselves with an alternative outlet for filling whatever emotional need is behind the urge to eat.
Here are some ideas. It's best to sit down and write your own list, and experiment to figure out what works best for you. Remember, if you end up not being able to avoid the urge to eat at first, treat yourself with compassion. Getting angry at yourself only furthers the vicious cycle and leaves you back where you were: feeling badly and not knowing what to do about it except eat.
Think about trying these:
When you're feeling anxious and in need of comfort:
-write your feelings down.
-call a friend and talk about what's bothering you.
-take a walk and breathe deeply.
-get a hug from someone you trust.
-problem-solve whatever is going on - figure out a step by step plan to fix the problem or prevent whatever you're worried about.
-turn on some soothing music.
-try a warm shower or bath.
When you're feeling devastated or sad:
-see all of the above.
-count your blessings - write a list.
-go ahead and let yourself cry.
-call your mom or a friend who will listen and commiserate with you.
When you're feeling angry or frustrated:
-see many of the above.
-punch a pillow or punching bag, or shadow box. Get all your frustrations out. Picture your problem or the person causing your problem and punch them in the face! (In your imagination, of course.)
-Write a letter you never intend to send airing all your anger. Then tear it up or burn it.
-turn on angry music and stomp around your house.
-channel your anger into something productive that you've been putting off, like cleaning. You'll have enough energy to get it done and barely notice the task.
When you're feeling happy and accomplished (and want to eat to celebrate):
-get some friends together to do something non food related but fun: shopping, bowling, rollerskating, whatever!
-use your happy energy to exercise.
-turn on upbeat music and dance.
-call your friends and tell them all about your success.
-do a random act of kindness for someone.
When you're feeling bored:
-Get out an old project you've been putting off.
-Research something you've been curious about.
-Find a new video game, iPod app, or something to play with.
-Read a book or watch something you've been wanting to.
-Play with a child.
-Try a new exercise or workout (videos are a great source for this).
-Try a new (or old) hobby like playing a musical instrument, making art, etc.
Again, brainstorm and think of things you think will work well for you. Keep your list handy so you'll have it when you need ideas. New habits take awhile to stick, so don't worry if changing the way you react to emotions is slow to change. Keep at it, and eventually your new coping skills will become ingrained.