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Alternatives to Emotional Eating: Self-Soothing without the Cellulite

Updated on August 29, 2012

When my daughter was a baby I read an article about the importance of babies learning to “self-soothe.” Babies cope with stress by sucking a pacifier, bottle, or thumb. They may twirl a lock of hair, or gnaw on a favorite toy. It’s important for babies to learn how to soothe themselves so they don’t rely on Mommy and Daddy to help them feel better in times of stress, or relax into dreamland at bedtime. For a baby, learning to self-soothe feels empowering because they are in control of their feelings. While they can’t control the big world around them, they can control how they respond to it.

It makes sense that adults are the same way. Adults have all kinds of ways to self-soothe in times of stress. My husband plays video games. I have friends who crochet, jog, bake, or talk on the phone to ease the inevitable discomfort of being human. Me? I eat.

I remember being in high school and feeling stress over an upcoming test or anger at a boy, and reaching for my Mom’s homemade chocolate-covered peanut butter balls. Food – especially chocolate – brought me instant comfort. This self-soothing gave me the strength to go address the source of the stress. I could study for the test or go dump the jerk boyfriend.

As babies resist relinquishing their precious pacifiers, I have resisted giving up emotional eating for 20 years. But I’ve done it and you can too. The trick is to replace those unhealthy self-soothing techniques with healthy ones. For my kids, it meant cutting the tip off the binkies so they could hold the binky in their hand but they didn’t have anything to put in their mouths and distort their teeth.

You have a number of techniques at your disposal to curb emotional eating and replace it with healthier habits.

Xbox 360 4GB Console with Kinect
Xbox 360 4GB Console with Kinect

I highly recommend the Xbox Kinect as an alternative to emotional eating because it allows you to burn stress and calories at the same time.

Zumba Fitness - Kinect - Xbox 360
Zumba Fitness - Kinect - Xbox 360

I am a Zumba junkie, and Zumba Fitness for the Xbox Kinect is my favorite game. Get your dance on!


Discover and adopt healthier self-soothing techniques.

Start by making a list of all the things you love to do and that help soothe stress. While food may be your #1 stress reliever, you probably have others you don’t utilize as often. What are they? Can you use them more often instead of food? Here are some ideas: scrapbooking, sitting in a hot tub, taking deep breaths, laughing with friends, tickling your kids, or dancing. Lately I really enjoy puzzle video games and Sudoku. I also enjoy reading funny books like Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Naked by David Sedaris. I burn stress and calories with Zumba Fitness and Dance Central on my Xbox Kinect. Invest the time to find your alternative self-soothers.

See the stress coming and head it off in a healthy way.

Diet experts will tell you to eat healthy foods regularly so you don’t get crazy hungry and eat everything in sight. Use the same technique to keep your stress from getting out of control, causing you to dive head first into a bag of Halloween candy. Do you have a super stressful meeting every Monday morning that causes you to double your day’s donut intake? See the stress coming and sign up for a yoga class Mondays before work, or replace the donuts with a yummy yogurt parfait with extra berries. Make a list of the times or events that spur emotional eating, and develop personalized strategies for prevention.

Consciously incorporate alternative self-soothing techniques into your daily life where you need them.

Food is a seductive self-soother because it is so readily available. If you’re an emotional eater and you’re having a rough day, comfort is as close as the nearest vending machine or convenience store. Make sure your new, healthy self-soothing techniques are just as available. If listening to music is your new self-soother, make sure your iPod is on your pre-flight checklist before you leave the house each morning. I love my new Nook Color from Barnes & Noble because in one small, slim, super portable device I have Sudoku, books, magazines, and even movies. I can easily lose myself in a magazine or Sudoku game to escape my stress, rather than reaching for something sweet.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Junk food, sleep deprivation, slothfulness, and nuclear-grade caffeine consumption all erode your ability to handle life’s stresses, and can lead to emotional eating. Take control of your life and eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and keep your caffeine intake to a minimum.

Reduce your commitments.

As much as you can, change your life to reduce the stress that’s causing you to overeat. Are you overwhelmed at work or over committed in community activities? Try to scale back to allow more healthful and fun things into your day. Although it may not always feel like it, you are the master of your destiny. Take control and make conscious choices to achieve the life you want.

Finally, forgive your lapses.

Do not add to your stress by beating yourself up for reaching for a candy bar when the going gets tough. Simply review your non-food self-soothing strategies, resolve to do better, and move on. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Take the long view and keep plugging away. If a healthy self-soothing strategy isn't working for you, try a different one. Try to try again. I know you can do it!


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    • FitFamily profile image

      FitFamily 6 years ago from Lynnwood, Washington

      Wow, thanks for those great suggestions! That reminds me that I enjoy cross-stitching, and I should give that a try for homemade Christmas gifts with the holidays approaching. You're right, that's a great way to keep your hands busy while relaxing in the evenings.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 6 years ago

      These are fantastic self-soothing tips that don't involve eating. I like to crochet or knit, read romance novels, jump on my mini trampoline, take walks on the beach, and do tai chi. And if I'm crocheting in front of the tv in the evening, which is a lot like being at the movies and wanting a bag of popcorn, I typically don't get the urge to snack. And if I do, I try to eat a few pieces of lean protein, a lot more satisfying than chips. Rated up and useful!