Expert advice on how to control your cravings - Women's Health and Fitness magazine.

Are you stuck in the cycle of emotional eating? Our experts weigh in with their tricks and tips to break the cycle and take control.

Know your triggers

Chloe Mcleod, Dietitian

Identifying your triggers is important. For example, if you know being home by yourself after work is a high-risk time for you, maybe this is the time you go to the gym, or find another activity instead. Or if you are feeling stressed or angry, taking the time to practise meditation is fantastic at helping you calm down.

Try to distract yourself away from food. Call your mum, go for a walk, try yoga. You’ll be surprised how easily you forget about the food you’re craving.

Do your best to eat slowly and mindfully. Take your time with your food, and savour each bit. Think of the flavours, textures and smells. Slowing down the process of eating can help prevent overeating, and help you enjoy what you are having more.

Get a check-up

Amanda Palm, Nutritional Therapist

There’s usually a big picture involved when it comes to emotional eating. Just stopping or going on a diet is often not enough, because there’s an entire chemical imbalance happening in the body. It’s always worth getting to a GP to get a blood test and check for any deficiencies and core issues from a chemical perspective.

Get Inspired

Dr John Demartini, Human Behaviour Expert

Fill your days with high-priority actions that inspire you and have meaning, and that you spontaneously desire to achieve. This awakens the forebrain’s executive centre that then masterfully governs the more impulsive or emotional eating behaviours. 

When you are inspired you eat wisely. When you are not fulfilled, nor have meaning, you are more likely to attempt to immediately gratify your unfulfilled feelings with sweets and empty calories.

Keep a diary

Jamie Rose Chambers, Dietitian

Keeping a food diary will help you to stay mindful about what you are eating and patterns that are occurring in your diet.

Make sure you have non-food rewards or activities that make you feel good and are something to look forward to if you’re bored, like making a yummy healthy dinner, run a bath or curl up to read your favourite book.

When you have the desire to eat, give yourself a moment to think about whether you’re hungry or just want to eat. If you’re hungry, you’ll be eating anything you can get your hands on, including a carrot or an apple, whereas emotional eating is usually for one type of food, like ice-cream, and that food only.

Have a great meal plan to follow that is nutritionally balanced, includes foods you love to eat and regulates your blood sugars so you’re never too hungry.

Don’t deprive yourself. Depriving yourself of your favourite foods has been shown to only make that comfort food all the more appealing. Sometimes when it’s back on the menu, it’s not quite as appealing anymore and easier to manage your intake.

Make a plan

Fiona Tuck, Nutritional Medicine Practitioner

Start a healthy eating plan which includes a variety of fresh wholefoods every day. Often comfort eaters will feel guilty, which leads to skipping meals the next day, which ultimately ends up with binge eating or overeating. Ensuring the body has a wide variety of nutrients daily can help to increase energy levels, stabilise blood sugar and elevate the mood, which can lower the likelihood of comfort eating. 

Eat tryptophan-rich foods in the afternoon or early evening as these will help to boost serotonin levels and reduce the desire to comfort eat. Tryptophan-rich foods include salmon, turkey, bananas, spirulina, eggs and milk.

Fight Boredom

Ned Casack, personal trainer

Instead of snacking when you’re bored, do something positively productive with your time; clean the house, read a book, go for a walk. Studies have shown that a 10-minute walk can immediately boost brain chemistry and put you in the realm of happy feels. 

Delay immediate gratification. Find a way to build a fun work-for-reward system. If you want a treat, say a Tim Tam, do 15 to 20 minutes of high-intensity training first and then reach for the reward.

Surround yourself with friends and family who will not enable your emotional eating. It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re tethered to goats.

Strategise

Tracie Connor, Nutritionist

Keep unhealthy sweet treats out of your fridge, pantry and arm’s reach. If it’s not there, you’ll be forced to make another choice.

Replace unhealthy sweet treats with nutritious snacks that can keep you healthy and ultimately make you feel better; e.g. ditch the ice cream and make a fresh fruit smoothie instead to deliver energy, nutrients and sweetness, or drop the pizza and make a sourdough toastie filled with healthy fats like avocado, fish and green salad vegetables to boost omega-3 fatty acid intake and increase ‘feelgood’ dopamine levels.

Nurture yourself

Karina Francois, Naturopath

There are a number of ways to feed your feelings and fulfil yourself emotionally. If you are lonely, reach out and speak with someone. Feeling anxious? Get some fresh air to calm your nerves. If you’re feeling tired, have a bath using calming essential oils such as lavender or camomile.

NEXT: Discover ways to boost your brain's potential with these mood-boosting foods.