8 Steps to End Emotional Eating

If you’ve ever eaten when you’re stressed, bored, angry or upset, even if you weren’t actually hungry, you’re not alone.  Most of us have eaten for emotional reasons at some time, and if it only happens occasionally it is unlikely to be a problem.

For some however, emotional eating can become a viscous cycle, where food is used as a way of dealing with negative emotions, and overeating then leads to feelings of guilt and poor self-esteem.

There are many reasons why we eat in response to our emotional state – food can provide pleasure and improve mood, eating can be a distraction from unpleasant or stressful situations, or we may have developed a habit of using food as a reward or way of feeling better.

Unfortunately this only provides a short-term solution and in the long term, emotional eating can result in health and weight problems and can prevent us from learning more productive ways to deal with emotional problems and stress.

If you find yourself regularly eating in response to your emotions, here are some tips to help you overcome this habit:

  1. Learn to recognize true hunger. Many people have lost the ability to distinguish true physical hunger from a desire to eat. Learning to recognise when you are really hungry (and when you are full) is the first step to conquering emotional and other non-hungry eating. If you’ve eaten a meal in the last few hours then you’re probably not hungry – try a glass of water or cup of tea first, then wait 15 minutes to see if you still feel the need to eat.  If you weren’t actually hungry, the craving to eat may have passed in this time.  A good trick is to get into the habit of rating your hunger before you decide to eat. Ask yourself where you are on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is ravenous and 5 is full; try to avoid eating if you rate a 4 or 5.
  1. Identify eating triggers. Knowing the situations that trigger your desire to eat when you’re not hungry is an important step in overcoming this habit. The best way to identify your triggers is to keep a food diary.  Write down what you eat, when you eat, how you are feeling and how hungry or full you are at the time. Do this for a week or two, then review your diary to identify any patterns, including particular situations that cause you to overeat, or any ‘danger’ times in your day or week.
  1. Find alternatives. The key to changing unhealthy habits is to replace them with positive alternatives. If eating makes you feel better when you’re upset, then plan some other feel-good activities to do instead – have a bath, read a good book, meet a friend or have a massage – anything that’s enjoyable and relaxing for you.  If, on the other hand, you eat to distract yourself from a boring or stressful situation, try to plan some other activities to keep you busy such as cleaning out your wardrobe, sorting old photographs or meeting a friend for a walk.  Make a list of alternatives and keep it handy so you can easily refer to it at times when you are ready to reach for the biscuits!  If there’s a particular time of the day or week that’s a problem for you, then regularly plan other activities to fill that time.
  1. Remove temptations. It’s all too easy to turn to your ‘comfort’ foods when you’re feeling vulnerable if they’re always within easy reach. Instead aim to keep a range of healthy snacks you enjoy at home and at work, and keep the ‘treats’ as occasional indulgences that you can include in small amounts when you are feeling good and can truly savour and enjoy them.
  1. Eat a balanced diet. Eat a well-balanced diet with regular meals and snacks built around mostly unprocessed wholefoods. This will ensure that your physical hunger is satisfied and your body is getting the energy and nutrients it needs to function at its peak. Avoid missing meals or cutting out whole food groups as this can lead to hunger and cravings, and may trigger overeating.
  1. Exercise regularly. Exercising regularly makes you feel better, both physically and mentally. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress levels and improve depression, and can help to regulate appetite. So next time you’re feeling down and are tempted to reach for the chocolate, grab a friend and head out for a walk or put on your favourite music and slip on your dancing shoes!
  1. Get enough rest and sleep. Feeling tired can cause you to turn to food to improve your energy levels, and can also reduce your resolve to eat well. Research has also shown that lack of sleep can affect hormones that increase appetite, which may in turn contribute to overeating and weight gain.  Aim for 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night.
  1. Learn to manage stress. If stress is a major trigger for your emotional eating, it’s worthwhile learning different ways to manage your stress. This could be done by building in activities that you find enjoyable and relaxing (such as having a bath or sitting in the sun and reading a magazine), taking up meditation or yoga, or using a guided relaxation program at home.  If these don’t help, you may want to consider getting professional help from a psychologist or counsellor who can assist with strategies to help you to relax and cope with stress.

Finally, if you do give in to emotional eating, don’t beat yourself up about it!  Learn from the experience and work out ways to prevent it happening again.  Then put it behind you and get back to your healthy eating plan.

Preventing Diabetes: The Six Lifestyle Habits that Count

July is National Diabetes Week so this month our focus is on diabetes, Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease, which is estimated to affect 1.7 million Australians.  In fact, 280 of us are diagnosed each day – that’s one every five minutes. And many people with type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed.

While the statistics paint a gloomy story, there is some good news.  Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable and because in most cases it develops slowly, this presents plenty of opportunity to intervene and reduce your risk.

Type 2 diabetes: what goes wrong?

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose (or sugar) in the bloodstream. When we consume carbohydrate (starchy and sugary foods) our body breaks them down into glucose (the body’s main energy source), which enters the blood stream. Insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) is needed for the absorption of glucose by the body’s cells. Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce insulin or when the insulin that is produced doesn’t work effectively.

Type 2 diabetes, which is by far the most common form, affects 85-90% of all people with diabetes. While it’s more often diagnosed in older adults, due to our increasing rates of obesity, we are now frequently seeing young children with type 2.

The development of type 2 diabetes begins with a condition called insulin resistance, where the body’s insulin is unable to work properly. Initially, the body makes extra insulin to overcome this resistance, so blood glucose levels remain normal.  But if nothing is done to reduce the extra workload on the body’s insulin producing (beta) cells, eventually they can’t keep up and blood glucose levels start to rise. Basically, the beta cells can no longer produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance.

As blood glucose levels rise, you progress from insulin resistance to impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose, both also known as ‘pre-diabetes’.  This is where blood glucose levels are above normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.  At this stage, lifestyle changes, moderate weight loss and possibly the use of medication can significantly reduce the risk or delay the development of diabetes. Without intervention, however, it is likely that blood glucose levels will continue to rise and progress to type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years, or sometimes sooner.

Why prevention matters

Unfortunately research has found that by the time many people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes they have already lost up to 80% of their beta-cell function. In other words, only 20% of their body’s insulin producing capacity is left.  This means that lifestyle changes may not be effective for long, and diabetes medications might be needed at the time of or soon after diagnosis, with many people progressing to needing insulin to manage their diabetes within a few years. Of particular concern is that many people with type 2 diabetes already have early signs of complications such as eye, kidney and nerve damage, by the time they are diagnosed.

Diabetes complications occur when the blood glucose levels remain elevated for periods of time – these complications include heart disease, kidney disease, eye damage and circulation problems.  If diabetes is diagnosed early and blood glucose levels are kept well managed, with lifestyle changes and the addition of medication when needed, the risk of developing these complications can be significantly reduced.  So early diagnosis, and maintaining blood glucose levels as close as possible to the normal range, as well as managing cholesterol and blood pressure, is the key.

As the symptoms of diabetes (such as thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision and fatigue) don’t usually kick in until the blood glucose levels are quite high, awareness of risk factors is the key to early diagnosis of type 2.  That’s right – the key to preventing diabetes and its complications is not to sit around and wait for it to happen but to get in early and do everything possible to ward it off.  And the best way to do this is with lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle is key – proof is in the research.

While genetics play a part, and we can’t change our genes, type 2 diabetes is also a lifestyle disease that is more common in people who are overweight and inactive. It makes sense, then, that diet and exercise might help to prevent this condition from occurring in the first place.  The good news is that we have proof that this is the case and the benefits are significant.

Several studies have now shown the benefits of lifestyle intervention for preventing diabetes but the best evidence comes from two large studies, one in the USA (called the Diabetes Prevention Program, or DPP) and another in Finland (called the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study) which both found that people with pre-diabetes who took part in a lifestyle intervention program reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58%.  This means you can more than halve your risk of developing diabetes just by improving your eating habits, walking regularly and losing a few kilograms.

Of note, the US study found that lifestyle changes were twice as effective as medication in preventing diabetes. Even if you already have diabetes, making these changes will help you to manage your condition, may delay or reduce your need for medication, and can help to reduce the chances of long-term complications.

So if you want to take control of your health, now is the time to take action!

Diabetes prevention in 6 easy steps

Here are the lifestyle changes that matter:

Move more. It’s well established that regular exercise can significantly reduce diabetes risk.  A combined analysis of 10 studies carried out by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that compared to those who were sedentary, people who regularly participated in moderate intensity physical activity had a 31% reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes. And those who walked briskly for at least 2.5 hours each week had a 30% lower chance of developing diabetes than those who did almost no walking. These findings were similar in men and women and were independent of weight. And if you need more motivation to get moving, check out our blog post Motivation to Exercise with some tips to get you started.

Sit Less. It’s not just about regular exercise – even sitting less can help. Australian research has linked television watching and time spent in sedentary activities with a higher risk of raised blood glucose levels.  Other studies have found that breaking up prolonged sitting (even for a minute or two every 20-30 minutes) can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Obviously sitting is bad for our health but even small changes can make a difference!

Adopt a plant-based diet. Eating habits have a vital role to play when it comes to your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Limiting total energy intake to manage your weight is important but the types of food you eat also matter.  Diets high in saturated fat, red meat and processed meats have been linked with an increased risk of diabetes while diets high in fibre, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk.  This means basing your meals around plant foods (vegetables and salads, legumes, wholegrains and nuts), eating more fish and legumes in place of red meat, choosing only lean cuts of meat and avoiding processed meats.  One large study found that a Mediterranean diet (which is consistent with these recommendations) reduced the risk of diabetes by 52% in those with cardiovascular risk factors. Similarly, a number of studies have found that those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are significantly less likely to develop diabetes.  Not sure where to start?  Check out or Pinterest recipe board for some inspiration.

Reduce your waist measurement. Carrying excess weight increases the risk of diabetes, particularly when it’s around the middle.  If your waist measurement is above 80cm for women or 94cm for men, you are at much higher risk of developing diabetes. The good news is that losing just 5-10% of your weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

If you smoke, quit now. We all know that smoking isn’t good for us and can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer, but most people don’t realise that it can also increase your diabetes risk. Studies have shown that smokers are more insulin resistant and have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  One large study of more than 4000 men found that compared to those who had never smoked, those who smoked up to 20 cigarettes per day had a two-fold increase in risk of developing diabetes while those who smoked 20 cigarettes or more each day had a 2.4-fold increase in risk.

Get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to worsen insulin resistance and studies have shown that both sleep quality and quantity are related to diabetes risk. A combined analysis of 10 studies found that sleeping less than 5-6 hours/night increases the risk of diabetes by 28% while sleeping more than 8-9 hours increases the risk by almost 50%.  The same study also found that difficulties getting to sleep and difficulties maintaining sleep were associated with a 57% and 84% increase in risk of diabetes, respectively. In those with diabetes, too little or too much sleep is associated with higher blood glucose levels.

Diabetes – are you at risk?

If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions, you are at higher risk of developing diabetes, so it’s important to discuss this with your doctor:

  • I have a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • I have high blood pressure
  • I have high triglycerides and low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol
  • I have heart disease or have had a heart attack
  • I am overweight, particularly around the middle
  • I am over 55
  • I am of Chinese, Indian or Pacific Islander Heritage
  • I am an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
  • I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • I had diabetes in pregnancy or gave birth to a large baby (over 4.5kgs)
  • I don’t exercise regularly or get much activity in my day

You can also check out your risk online with the AUSDRISK interactive tool – by answering ten questions based around the risk factors above, you will be able to calculate your risk of type 2 diabetes in the next 5 years.



Making Sense of Food Labels

It’s a question we get from many of our clients at NND.  What exactly do all the numbers on our food labels mean and what should I be looking for when choosing which foods to put in my trolley?  With an increasing number of food products finding their way onto the supermarket shelves each week, and many of these covered in nutrition ‘claims’, we understand that shopping for a healthy diet isn’t always easy.  But with a few basic guidelines to follow, selecting the right foods for you and your family doesn’t have to be mission impossible.

Fresh is best.  The first tip when shopping is that most of your trolley should be filled with foods that don’t carry a label.  That’s right – fresh fruit and vegetables! While we know they are good for us, most of us don’t eat enough – in fact the latest national dietary survey found that only 5% of Australian adults are eating the recommended amount of fruit and veg.   To ensure you get your 2 and 5 (that’s two serves of fruit and 5 serves of veggies each day) make sure these go into the shopping basket first!

Check the Ingredients The ingredient list is often overlooked but it’s an important part of a food label, listing all of the ingredients in the product, in descending order of quantity. It’s a useful way of determining the source of various nutrients and is also handy for anyone with food allergies or intolerances to work out if the product is suitable for them.  And if the ingredient list is full of things that you don’t recognise as food, leave it on the shelf!

“Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry”

Michael Pollan –Food Rules

 Serving Size The nutrition information panel provides nutrient details both per serve and per 100g. The serving size is specified by the manufacturer but it’s important to remember that this may not be the amount that you eat!  When comparing products, it is best to use the figures in the ‘per 100g’ column so that you are always comparing the same amount. These figures are also equivalent to percentages, e.g. 5g of fat per 100g means that the product contains 5% fat.

 Energy Many people don’t understand what ‘energy’ on a food label means, yet this is one of the most important things to look at, particularly if you are watching your weight.  Energy refers to the number of calories or kilojoules in a food and takes into account the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrate that food contains.  Your energy needs will depend on a number of factors including your age, sex, activity levels and whether you are trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight, but to maintain weight the average adult female needs about 8800 kilojoules each day and the average male needs 10600 kilojoules. Knowing your energy needs can help you to work out how a particular food fits into your daily eating plan.

Fat While fat isn’t necessarily the enemy, for optimal health it’s best to avoid foods high in saturated fat (found in animal foods, palm and coconut oil) and instead, choose foods containing ‘healthier’ monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and fish).  The nutrition panel on a food label will always include both total and saturated fat so aim for foods where the saturated fat is 25% or less of the total fat.  The other type of fat that you want to stay away from is trans fats. Like saturated fats, these fats increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, but they also reduce ‘good’ cholesterol so should definitely be avoided. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory labelling for trans fats in Australia at this stage, but some manufacturers choose to include them, so look for products with no trans fats, particularly when buying products like margarine, pastries and biscuits.  Finally, remember that fat contains more energy per gram than protein and carbohydrate so can add up the kilojoules quickly.

To be labelled ‘low fat’ a product must have 3g/100g or less of fat and to be labelled ‘low saturated fat’ it must have 1.5g/100g or less of saturated fat.

Carbohydrate The value for carbohydrate on a food label tells you the total amount of carbs from both starches and sugars.  Despite all the recent attention on low carb diets, carbs are not bad.  In fact these are your main energy source and for most people, should make up at least 50% of your daily energy needs, a lot more if you are active.  The carbohydrate content of a food is particularly useful if you have diabetes, as eating a regular intake from day to day and/or matching this with your medication or insulin is important in managing blood glucose levels.

Sugars Most people think the sugar content on a food label refers to the amount of added sugar in a food, but this isn’t the case.  It actually tells you the total amount of sugar which includes both added sugars and those naturally occurring (e.g. lactose in milk products and fructose in fruit).  So dairy foods like milk and yoghurt, and foods containing fruit or dried fruit may appear to be high in sugar, but this is from the natural sugars these foods contain rather than added sugar.  In general, products with less than 5g of sugar per 100g are considered low in sugar. Remember, though, some healthy products may not fit into this category due to the naturally occurring sugars they contain – the ingredient list can help you in determining the source of sugar in a food product.

Glycemic Index One important thing to realise is that the sugar content of a food does not predict the effect a food has on blood glucose or insulin levels.  In fact, the only way to know this is to know the glycemic index (GI) of a food (a measure of the rate of digestion and absorption of a food) and unfortunately this so far only appears on a small range of food products (although it is increasing all the time). Look out for the official GI symbol (www.gisymbol.com.au) which tells you that a food has been properly tested and meets certain nutrition criteria. You can also get a copy of The Low GI Diet Shoppers Guide. Choosing lower GI carbs can help with managing blood glucose and insulin levels, keeping you fuller for longer and providing longer lasting energy. However, GI shouldn’t be used in isolation as not all low GI foods are healthy choices!

A GI value of less than 55 is considered ‘low GI’, 55-70 is considered ‘moderate GI’ and over 70 is considered ‘high GI’

Dietary Fibre Adults should consume at least 25-30g of dietary fibre each day yet research shows that Australians are only getting about half of this amount. Fibre is essential for digestive health and may also help to reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.  So when choosing foods like breads, cereals, crackers, rice and pasta, compare products and go for those with a higher fibre content.

Products containing more than 3g of fibre per serve are considered high fibre.

Protein This is something we’ve all been hearing more about recently, yet most of us eat more protein than we need.  The average female needs about 46g of protein/day and the average male about 64g/day and by reading food labels you will see that this is quite easy to meet.  This means there’s no need for most of us to be adding extra protein from bars and powders.  While adequate protein is important and can help with satiety, high protein – low carb diets, particularly where the protein is coming mainly from animal foods, have been linked with a greater risk of chronic disease (including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer) and mortality.  The best eating plan for optimal health and weight management is one which balances good quality proteins and carbs.

Sodium Eating too much salt, or sodium, can lead to high blood pressure, increase your risk of heart disease and affect bone health by reducing the amount of calcium you retain. Aim for no more than 2300mg per day and even less (1600mg/day) if you have high blood pressure.  While not adding salt to your meals or cooking is a good start, most of the sodium in our diet actually comes from processed foods, so always check the sodium content when shopping and go for products with lower sodium levels.

Products with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g are considered low in sodium.

While we’d all do well to follow Michael Pollan’s advice to avoid shopping in the supermarket where possible, we realise this isn’t always easy.  So hopefully next time you head out to buy your groceries, these guidelines will help determine which deserve a place in your trolley.

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