Why Don’t You Stress Eat Broccoli and 10 Tips to Help Stop Emotional Eating

I actually like Broccoli, if you have never roasted it, you need to try it, and you’re welcome. However, this isn’t what my head is craving when I am stressed, depressed, or just bored with life. I crave sweet treats and lean toward things like Pop-Tarts or brownies if I am really indulging my emotions.

You can blame dopamine if you want to know why we don’t tend toward foods like everything good for us when we emotionally eat. Those healthy green things don’t pack the dopaminergic punch that foods like potato chips or chocolate do when cravings hit.

In this post, I will outline 10 tips you can use to battle those cravings in a way that supports a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Urge Surfing: Think of a wave of craving coming toward you. The closer that it gets, the more it swells, and the craving becomes stronger. The idea of surfing the craving is to ride the feelings instead of allowing them to crash into you. When a craving is coming on, set a timer for 15 minutes and distract yourself with a non-food-related activity. At the end of the 15 minutes, evaluate if this is true hunger you are feeling or just a craving.
  2. Plan your meals and stick to the plan: During the pandemic, I noticed a pattern where I was getting up between sessions and grabbing a snack. You could imagine how quickly the calories would add up given a day where I see 6-7 clients. To address this, I started to only eat at specific points in my day and restrict any eating outside of those time slots.
  3. Understand head-hunger vs. actual hunger: Have you ever been hungry for a candy bar? Have you ever craved Broccoli? Sometimes our heads push us toward eating things that sound good versus things we need for nutritional support. To manage cravings better, we need to monitor that desire for something that tastes good in contrast to foods our bodies need.
  4. Address the actual emotion: Emotional eating is a response to something we are trying to work out with food. Instead of eating your emotions the next time you are craving, ask yourself what is happening. Identify the feelings pushing you to eat the food and take steps to work through those feelings.
  5. Come up with healthy substitutes: It is difficult to binge candy when there isn’t any in your house or at work. Because nobody is perfect, and you will give into cravings at some point, why not keep things around that make more sense for healthy living goals. I have a sweet tooth and found these fantastic grapes that I have found as an excellent substitute for the jellybeans I use to keep around.
  6. Get a better night of sleep: I know what you are thinking; sleep always ends up in a list like this as a way to take better care of yourself. The reality is that sleep is that important and can support you in so many ways. People that don’t get enough sleep are more vulnerable to cravings. Not getting enough sleep would be like care starting a road trip with half a tank. Instead of reaching the destination, we must stop and do something to fill that tank up.
  7. Take opposite to emotional action: For this one, we are taking a page from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Utilizing this technique, you recognize your emotion and go opposite the direction you are being pushed.. If, in the past, boredom, anxiety, or depression may have made you toward having that bowl of cereal. Instead, try to find an activity that isn’t food related.
  8. Develop mindfulness around eating: The word “mindfulness” can bring up many different ideas for people. At a basic level, mindfulness is about paying attention. Take a second before you eat something and consider how, what you eat, aligns with the goals you have for your health.
  9. Schedule indulgences: OK, we need to talk about this. I had a good friend that was a bodybuilder. Once a month he would put all his discipline aside and get multiple fast food burger meals and a couple of milkshakes for dessert. The thing is, a mountain of muscle at 10% body fat can do that for everyone once in a while. These same rules don’t apply to your average person. You can indulge everyone once in a while, but you have to keep your circumstances in mind.
  10. Create a lifestyle that supports stress reduction: Stress creates an environment in our bodies that favors fat retention. It’s not enough to download an app for meditation or get a massage; every once in a while, you have to create a lifestyle around stress reduction. Activities that help you reduce stress have to become daily activities.

These are all strategies I have used with the people I work with and in my own life. Ten is a nice round number where I can showcase these strategies, and I know there are many more. Feel free to add your strategy in the comment section. I would love to hear anything that has worked for other people.

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Hi, I'm Matt, and I'm a counselor who helps people achieve optimal health. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in eSports and video game addiction. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.