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Super Fitness Weight Loss Challenge: Exploring emotional eating

Have you ever had a stressful day and used food to cope? The American Psychological Association says it's not uncommon.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors is not uncommon. 

Nearly 30 percent of adults say they eat to manage stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

WTOL 11 asked all of the Super Fitness Weight Loss Challenge participants what their biggest issue is when it comes to food, and emotional eating was one of the top responses.

Brenda Bal, a diabetes educator for Mercy Health said there are ways to conquer emotional eating.

"Sometimes we eat for physical hunger and sometimes we eat for other reasons," Bal said. "Maybe we had a trigger of a really stressful day, a life event that was really impactful. Eating for other reasons aside from physical hunger, and our emotions."

Comfort foods like pasta and chips usually go hand-in-hand with emotional eating, according to Bal.

"Some of those hyper-palatable foods that we see in our food environment today really give us some comfort," Bal said. "Sugar, fat and salt trigger the reward center in our brain, so it does make us feel good at the moment. The difficulty is that it doesn't last. What we would like to do is flip the script and focus on healthy habits that we can do to reinforce our new behaviors."

She said if people are emotional eaters, there are things they can do to get out of that mindset and reach for something better.

There are three steps that diabetes educators teach:

  • assess the trigger
  • remember the experience
  • figure out what to do after. 

"Take a step back and put the pause button on and identify the feeling," she said.

Bal said there are multiple things people can do to relieve stress instead of eating.

"So, you're feeling stressed or frustrated. Sometimes you can go for a walk or do an activity that isn't going to be associated with eating," she said. "If I turn to my crafts or being creative, I'm doing something with my hands like crocheting or knitting, that isn't conducive to eating. Focusing on non-food strategies and sometimes that craving will pass because we've used our other coping mechanisms."

But not everyone knows they are emotional eaters. If you think you might be one, start paying attention to when you eat and why.

"Self-awareness is important and keeping a food journal is a great strategy," she said. "In that food journal, you can keep additional details other than what the food is that you're eating. For example, how did I feel? What were the circumstances? What kind of day did I have? Those details can really be a roadmap for a person."

Bal said for people who are emotional eaters, the best way to stay on track is to meal plan and prep snacks ahead of time to help keep "positive and supportive food" in your environment.

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