Provided By Horizon Health EAP
ALTERNATE STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH EMOTIONAL EATING Emotional Eating: Alternative Strategies
Adapted from Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating by Roger Gould, M.D.
Situations and other people can trigger emotions that cause us to eat as a coping mechanism –
also referred to as “mindless eating.” To avoid eating mindlessly, use a preventive approach to escaping the “food trance.” Here are some suggestions:
1. Practice assertiveness and self-respect in your life interactions (see below.)
When issues arise at work or in your personal life, empower yourself to deal
with these problems as they come up. Begin to trust yourself to deal effectively
with these situations.
2. Find ways other than eating to get your needs met. Make a list of alternate
“need-meeting” strategies and make choices. When the urge to emotionally eat
arises, make an alternate choice from your list.
3. Learn to identify emotions and use mindfulness techniques. Notice how emotion
feels in your body. Use the feeling word list to become better at identifying
feelings. Labeling emotions helps to decrease intensity.
4. Identify new coping strategies that work for you. Personalize the coping
strategies – what works for someone else won’t necessarily be a fit for you.
1. Assertiveness formula:
“When you (behavior from someone else that triggers negative feelings), the impact on me is
(the emotional or productivity impact) and I want you to (alternate behavior you need from the
Optional: “And here’s what I’m willing to do.” When you take responsibility or show willingness to alter your behavior, it creates respect, reduces tension, and lowers others’ defensiveness. It
also keeps you from staying in a victim role.
Example: “Sally, when you cut me off in a meeting before I’ve finished my point, it creates
tension in the office. What I’d like is for you to let me finish my thoughts. I will make every effort to be to the point.”
2. Alternative Ways to Get Your Needs Met
Adapted from Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
There are other ways to nourish ourselves other than eating. However, what nourishes one
person may not be helpful to another. Here’s a list of suggestions, but making your own,
personalized list will be most important to finding alternatives to emotional eating:
Alternative Ways to Get Your Needs Met, continued
? Ask for what you want – from family, co-workers, partners. Emotional Eating: Alternative Strategies
? Set limits on negative people.
? Stop care-taking others. Make sure you put yourself at the top of your own list!
? Take a class at a community college or free university in something you’ve always been
? Volunteer your time and reach out to others
? Say no to people that drain you emotionally
? Be indulgent with yourself in other ways – a scented bubble bath with music and candles,
? Balance work and leisure activities
? Expand your spiritual connections
? Limit contact with negative people; increase contact with good friends who support you
? Buy little things for yourself – silly socks, colored pens, flowers – be creative!!
? Write in a journal
? Write a gratitude list
? Express your feelings to a trusted friend on a daily basis!! (See feeling list below.)
? Other ___________________________
3. IDENTIFY EMOTIONS AND USE MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES
Feeling Word List: Research has shown that labeling feelings helps to manage them more
effectively, according to Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and cognitive
neuroscience. Lieberman has now shown in a series of studies that simply labeling emotions
turns down the brain alarm center response in the brain that triggers negative feelings*. Using
a feeling word list to help you identify emotions.
Emotion Mild Moderate Strong
Anger Annoyed Angry Furious
Sadness Blue Sad Devastated
Grief Nostalgic Grieving Bereft
Happy Glad Joyful Ecstatic
Fear Nervous Afraid Terrified
Hurt Offended Wounded Betrayed
Shame Embarrassed Ashamed Humiliated
There are other books and web resources for identifying emotions. Google “Feelings List” and
see what you find!
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique in which one pays attention to his or her present
emotions, thoughts and body sensations, such as breathing, without passing judgment or Emotional Eating: Alternative Strategiesreacting. An individual simply releases his thoughts and "lets it go."
“Shuttling” Exercise When you become aware of a stressful emotion, try this exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair.
Put your feet shoulder-width apart, relax into a comfortable position in the chair. Breathe in
through your nose, out through your mouth, and breathe from your diaphragm (abdomen area)
instead of your upper chest.
Focus your awareness – sounds, noises, sensations and sights. Say silently to yourself, “Now I
am aware of…my inside” and notice something internally. It might be a grumbly stomach, tension in your neck, anxious feelings about something, thoughts about errands after work, a
funny taste in your mouth – it can be anything. Keep your focus in the present moment. Do this
with an attitude of curious observation – no critical judgment!
Next, at your own pace, shift your attention to the external environment. Breathe in and say
silently, “Now I am aware of… my outside” and notice whatever comes into focus. It may be the
noise of machines, cars outside, birds, the temperature of the room, the way the light hits the
wall through the blinds – anything. Do this non-judgmentally.
Then shuttle back to the internal awareness – breathe and say, “Now I am aware of… my inside” and so on. Continue shuttling back and forth for about five-ten minutes,
breathing deeply the entire time, and then stop. Notice any changes that may have occurred to
your emotions. Most people feel that these types of exercises regulate their emotions more
4. EMOTIONAL COPING STRATEGIES
Exercise: Select at least three strategies from each list, and make a commitment to use them Emotional Eating: Alternative Strategieson a daily basis for at two weeks, and journal how this impacts emotional eating.
Adapted from Shrink Yourself: Break Free from Emotional Eating by Roger Gould, M.D.
? Deep breathing
? Long, hot bath
? Get a massage
? Visualization techniques ? Soothing music
? Time with pets
? Go for a quiet, slow walk ? Gentle stretching to release tight muscles ? Other ______________________
2. Having More Fun:
? Go to museum, art gallery or concert ? Listen to upbeat music ? Go to movies
? Read a great book
? Play game, cards or do puzzle ? Go shopping
? Participate in spiritual activities ? Visit with a good friend ? Go for a brisk walk ? Go to a comedy show or watch a funny TV show ? Other ______________________
3. Be More Active:
? Go running or jogging ? Take a bike ride
? Practice yoga or Pilates ? Go to the gym (try a new class!) ? Work in garden
? Go hiking
? Play golf, tennis or go bowling ? Go camping
? Go hunting or fishing ? Go dancing
? Other ________________________
More Tips on Overcoming Emotional Eating
Emotional Eating: Alternative StrategiesMindful Eating: Guidelines for focusing attention on your eating: Adapted from Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
? Eat only when hungry.
? Be aware of how you feel before you start to eat.
? Remind yourself that you have alternate strategies for meeting your EMOTIONAL needs
and that this meal is to feed your PHYSICAL hunger.
? Physical hunger likes nutritious, healthy food
? Give yourself permission to leave food on your plate.
? Eat in full view of friends and family, including partners, parents, children and colleagues –
stop eating in secret.
? Sit down when you eat.
? Slow down when you eat; chew food mindfully.
? Eat without distractions – TV, books, newspapers or loud music.
? Avoid emotional conversations when you eat.
? Create as lovely an eating environment as you can create.
Keep a Daily Journal:
Make copies of the journal pages and use them to track new behavior. Journaling feelings and
thoughts is also an effective emotional management tool.
If you think that you or someone in your family may have more serious eating problems, please
contact your EAP Member Advocate for a referral. Individuals suffering from eating disorders
have serious and potentially life-threatening problem, and professional assistance is needed.
For Further Reading and Support Emotional Eating: Alternative Strategies
Mayo Clinic article online: “How to Stop Emotional Eating” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss/MH00025
UCLA research on labeling feelings:
Web M.D. Article – “Emotional Eating: Feeding Your Feelings” http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/emotional-eating-feeding-your-feelings
“Emotional Sobriety” Article by Tian Dayton, Ph.D: www.tiandayton.com/signs-of-emotional-sobriety.htm
Shrink Yourself Website – information about Dr. Gould’s books and online help:
Eating Disorders Anonymous Online:
Overeaters Anonymous Onine:
Books and Workbooks on Emotional Eating:
Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth
2003, Penguin Group USA
Food and Feelings Workbook: A Full Course Meal on Emotional Health by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.
2007, Gürze Books
Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, PhD
2006, Bantam Dell, a division of Random House Publishing
Shrink Yourself – Break Free from Emotional Eating by Roger Gould, M.D. 2007, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.