Understanding Emotional Eating

July 13, 2017 at 9:30 am | Posted in Health | Leave a comment
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Have you ever come home after a stressful day and ended up eating a pint of Chunky Monkey?  Or maybe you’ve mindlessly eaten a bag of chips at your desk willing the workday to go by faster?  Both of these examples are types of emotional eating:  eating for reasons other than hunger.  While eating when you’re  hungry addresses a physical need (providing the body with food in order to function), emotional eating uses food to satisfy an emotional need.  Some common causes of emotional eating include stress, anger, boredom and loneliness.    Emotional eating can affect your diabetes management because often the foods eaten are high in sugar, fat and calories.  This can raise blood sugar and make it hard to lose weight.

So how can you tell if you’re eating because you’re hungry or because you’re stressed out?  Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by any type of food. You stop feeling hunger when you have eaten enough to feel full.  Emotional “hunger” comes on very quickly and is focused on a strong craving for a particular food, taste or texture. Emotional eating is also often mindless and can lead to feelings of guilt afterward.

Now that we know the difference between physical and emotional hunger, here are some strategies to help manage emotional eating:

  • Know your triggers – If you know what it is that causes you to eat (e.g. boredom, stress), you can take action to prevent mindless munching before it begins. Use another activity to distract yourself from wanting to eat. Try going for a walk, talking to a friend or loved one, or listening to music.
  • Pause – Before reaching for the bag of chips, stop and think: am I hungry, or am I bored? Wait 10 minutes and see if you are still truly hungry.
  • Eat smaller portions –   If you wait 10 minutes and still can’t stop thinking about those chips, have a smaller, individual portion to keep you from overeating.
  • Practice mindful eating – Slow down and take the time to really enjoy the smell, tastes and textures of your favorite foods. Try not to multi task – make eating your only activity.
  • Seek help if you need it – Emotional eating can sometimes be a symptom of depression or anxiety.  If you feel this may be the case, talk to your healthcare provider, a diabetes educator or a mental health specialist.

Post content reviewed by Jen Searl, MLS, CHWC

Heart Month Tweet Chat

February 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment
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Feb Heart Health Chat

My Be Fit Success Story

August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Jina Rameau, RN, MPH
Project Specialist

I was new to the MGH community, just 3 months into my position. During new employee orientation, I heard about all the benefits we can access. One in particular really caught my attention:  the MGH Be Fit program. Be Fit is the MGH employee wellness program, a free 10-week program that focuses on helping employees learn to eat healthier and exercise more with guidance from nutritionists and personal trainers.

I knew I wanted to join the program, and began contacting the directors. There was one hiccup:  I was pretty new to my department, and the program requested teams of 15-25 people within your department. I remember thinking I don’t know enough people to get a group together! I explained my situation to one of the directors and promised my commitment to Be Fit. He advised I could possibly join another team! I was ecstatic, and couldn’t wait to be a part of the program.

I joined the team at the Diabetes Research Center (team name: Sweet Success).  The time flew by with weekly team breakout sessions with our nutritionist, Debra, and personal trainer, Pete. Weekly rallies were also held to review team stats for submission of food logs, the total time we spent exercising, how many times we practiced relaxation response techniques, and number of steps taken. There were a total of 6 teams, and Sweet Success remained within the Top 3 throughout the 10 weeks. We felt a sense of achievement whenever we took a trophy home.

In addition to 1 hour weekly strength training sessions with Pete, I also participated in the weekly group exercise classes at the gym right next to the hospital. I fell head over heels for Zumba:  a fun, effective workout system featuring dance moves set to Latin and International music.  As a result of Be Fit resources, I learned relaxation techniques (i.e. deep breathing and visualization) as well as nutrition facts like how to read a food label, portion size and healthy snacking.  I lost over 15lbs and continue to include exercise in my daily routine. It’s a lifestyle!

Go Team! Sweet Success'Be Fit Trophies

Overcoming Barriers to Fitness (Weight Management Part 3)

May 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Mike Bento, Personal Trainer
The Clubs at Charles River Park

Blue Dumbbells. Photo Credit: Christa Richert

I like to think of fitness as a risk management tool.  What you do today can have an impact on both your current state and on your future.  Developing a healthy lifestyle can help lower your blood pressure, reduces your risk of having a stroke, and can help protect against developing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.  But there’s an emotional component to fitness as well. 

As your fitness level increases, daily activities become easier; you find you want to do more.  And more than that, you start to feel good.  Your mood improves, you have more energy (especially at the end of the day and the end of the week) and your sleep gets better.  All of these “extra” benefits are just as important as actually working out because they help you stay consistent.  Sticking with it is crucial—to really see results and get the full benefit of your routine you have to make exercise a habit.

But just as there are emotional factors that can help you build momentum, there are others that can be obstacles to beginning (or staying with) your fitness routine.  For some people, it’s fear of change.  If you’ve never really exercised before, starting a fitness program can mean moving outside your comfort zone.  Change can be difficult or even scary.  It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time and reinforcement, but it does get easier as you go along and start seeing results.  Maybe it’s your clothes feeling a little looser, your waist getting a little smaller, or just someone commenting that you’ve lost weight.  Or maybe you notice your blood sugars are easier to control, or you’ve lowered your blood pressure.  And maybe it’s that you just feel better.  Any or all of these things can be the right motivation to keep doing what you’re doing.

At the end of the day, you are the only person who can do this for yourself.  It’s one thing in your life that you have complete control over.   And that can be very empowering.

Photo Credit: Christa Richert


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