Improve Your Mood Without Food

It’s another crazy day at work. The phone is ringing off the hook, yet another co-worker needs your attention, and your boss is anxious for the report that was due yesterday. So you do what anyone would do in this situation—you grab some chocolate or a bag of chips to help you deal with the stress. But then, instead of feeling better, you just feel guilty on top of it all.

If people only ate when they were genuinely hungry, most of us would never have weight problems. Unfortunately, emotions drive us to eat more often than actual hunger pangs. Whether we feel stress, boredom, loneliness, anger or sadness, we often turn to food to feel better. And while that may work in the short term, soothing yourself with high-calorie, high-fat goodies usually makes you feel worse in the long run—the emotions will still be there, along with ten or twenty extra pounds.

Instead of reaching for food the next time high emotions hit, try these coping ideas. In the end, your mind will feel better by resolving your feelings, and your body will thank you for not filling it with more food than it needs.

All Stressed Out

While it’s tempting to deal with stress by eating, there are many healthier ways to relieve the pressure. Exercise may be the best way to reduce stress levels. Instead of reaching for a snack when you feel ready to explode, take a quick walk outside or better yet, hit the gym for a vigorous workout. Any moderate to intense physical activity will lower your stress levels and help you deal with your problems more effectively. Try running, shadow boxing or even gardening, as many people find working with the earth to be soothing.

By exercising regularly, you can also help prevent stress from building up to unmanageable levels in the first place. Meditation, yoga and visualization will also help you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Bored Out of Your Mind

If your weeknights are filled with TV watching, and every Saturday night brings the same old video and a pizza routine, it’s time to break out of your rut. Many times we eat out of habit without even thinking about what we’re doing, especially when we're mindlessly munching while watching the tube.

If you're eating to prevent boredom, then get off the sofa and try a new activity. Go dancing, bowling or skating for an inexpensive night out that doesn’t revolve around food. Mix up your routine as much as possible—if you usually talk to your friends on the phone, drop by for a face-to-face visit. You can’t eat if your hands are busy, so try painting, knitting or playing an instrument to keep your hands occupied. If you have free time, find an organization that needs volunteers and help out. Many people associate home with food and don’t eat if they’re not in their regular surroundings, so spending time out of the house keeps them from munching.

Lonely Hearts

Loneliness can also prompt eating to symbolically fill the void you feel inside. Instead of filling up on empty calories, work on building stronger social networks. Volunteering is a good way to meet new people, as is enrolling in an evening class to learn a new skill. Making friends as an adult can be difficult since it requires a concerted effort to make a real change. If people aren’t coming to you, you will have to go to them. Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring—people are busy and might not realize that you need their attention unless you approach them first. You might learn that they are just as lonely as you are but were afraid to reach out to anyone.

So Angry You Could Eat a Whole Cake

Were you taught that it’s not nice to express anger? Many people are conditioned to bury negative emotions like anger instead of dealing with issues openly. So instead of working through their anger constructively, they eat their way out of their emotions.

What works for relieving stress—exercise, deep breathing, meditation—can also help relieve anger. While this gets rid of some angry energy and can help you calm down, it’s important that you deal with the initial cause of your anger. Talk to the person who may have upset you, or write about the issue in a private journal to clarify your feelings without hurting others—you can keep the words to yourself or show them to the other person.

A Good Cry

Many people are uncomfortable with sadness and some automatically think it’s a sign of weakness. It’s okay to feel blue some days and it’s natural to have emotional ups and downs. It helps to be able to pinpoint what prompted the emotion in the first place. If a bad argument with a friend leaves you feeling blue, for example, you can work on patching things up instead of eating to console yourself. But don’t forget the power of a good cry! Crying can help reduce stress and really help you feel better. Plus it’s much healthier than eating a bag of cookies!

If you feel sad or weepy but don’t know why, try journaling for a week to see if the reason is revealed to you. Persistent sad, hopeless feelings that last for two weeks or more can be signs of depression that you should discuss with your health care provider.

One Thought at a Time

Did you know that the simple act of smiling can make you feel happier? As cheesy as it sounds, smiling when you’re feeling down seems like one way to fake it until you make it.

Because your mind can only think one thought at a time, you can change your mood by changing your thought. If you’re angry or sad, stop thinking about the person or event that caused your emotion and switch to a thought that makes you feel happy or calm. Get your mind off your problems and onto something positive. Try it next time you’re tempted to improve your mood with food…and you might not need that cookie after all!