Are you feeling blue? Why not eat some ice cream to cheer you up? Are you bored? A piece of chocolate cake should make things livelier. Have something to celebrate? Let’s go out and eat! If you frequently find yourself eating for soothing your soul rather than for hunger, you might be an emotional eater. Now let's get a closer look at the various sides of emotional eating.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating means you turn to food to comfort yourself, or to relieve stress, even when you’re not really hungry. You eat when you’re lonely, depressed, angry, or excited and it’s usually "comfort foods" like pizza, desserts, chips, or French fries you indulge in rather than healthy nutritional choices.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in a celebratory meal or having a cookie or two to tide you over between meals. It’s when you find yourself frequently eating in response to your emotions that problems can arise. The food may taste great and make you feel better while you’re eating, it but afterwards you berate yourself, kicking yourself for eating the extra calories and blowing your diet. Emotional eating is not the answer to emotional problems and can become a serious issue if you find yourself packing on the pounds, especially if you have health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, or you are already obese.
Physical Hunger Vs Emotional Hunger
If you want to break the emotional eating cycle, you need to learn to tell the difference between true hunger and emotional hunger. Emotional hunger can be a powerful force and may make it difficult to differentiate between the two types of hunger. Here are some ways to tell the difference.
- Physical hunger builds up gradually. Emotional hunger often comes on suddenly.
- Physical hunger is satisfied with a variety of foods. Emotional hunger demands specific foods, usually those that are high in calories and low in nutritional value.
- Physical hunger is satisfied after eating a reasonable amount while emotional hunger doesn’t stop when your stomach gets full.
- Eating because you need sustenance doesn’t leave you feeling guilty. Emotional eating often makes you beat yourself up for indulging and your lack of self-control.
Why Does Emotional Eating Happen?
A lot of people have emotional eating issues. This sound so unreasonable why eat when not hungry. Here are some of the main reasons for that.
- Stress is the most common reason for emotional eating. There is actually a physical reason why stress makes you want to eat. Stress releases the hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol release cravings for sweet, salty, or high-fat foods. The more stress, the more cortisol, the more you want to eat.
- Numb emotions you’d rather not feel. Sometimes breakup, setback at work and quarrels with other can make us so upset and bothered. Some people choose to numb these negative feeling with eating because when you’re enjoying your food, you’re thinking about the pleasure you get from eating and temporarily forget those bad things.
- Eating habits from your childhood can trigger emotional eating. Did your parents use food as a punishment or reward? Did many of your family activities center around eating? Are you nostalgic for the days you baked cookies with your mother or shared a pizza with your dad? Or was there simply never enough to eat when you were growing up and now eating makes you feel safe and secure? These habits can be the reason.
- Social pressures can make you overeat. If you’re nervous at parties, eating is a way to keep your hands busy and your mouth engaged. You may also feel pressure to eat the food because it was generously provided or to please your host. That doesn’t mean you need to eat so much that you overindulge.
Are You an Emotional Eater?
Not sure if you’re an emotional eater? You may want to take an emotional eating quiz or a stress eating quiz. There are several types of these tests available on the internet. In the meantime, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you use food as a reward?
- Do you often eat even though you’re not really hungry?
- Is food your friend?
- Do you comfort yourself with food when you’re bored, lonely, sad, or angry?
- Do you often eat so much that you feel stuffed?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you are probably suffering from an emotional eating disorder.
Tips for Getting Rid of Emotional Eating
It’s not easy to break the emotional eating cycle but it can be done. Certain strategies can help you get food back in its proper place as a form of sustenance rather than as your emotional outlet. Here are some tactics that will help you gain control.
- Differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Before you open the refrigerator, ask yourself if you're really hungry or just feeding your emotions. If you’re not feeling actual hunger pangs, give yourself permission to wait awhile longer to eat.
- Stop beating yourself up. Give yourself a break from guilt and negative thoughts. Being kind to yourself is the first step in finding other ways of dealing with emotions besides eating.
- Take action instead of a bite. When the emotional craving for food begins get up and move instead. Dance to your favorite song, take a walk, or just run in place for a few minutes. Exercise is a known stress reliever and will help you get past that initial desire for food.
- Relaxation techniques and meditation often help. Finding ways to relax and take control of your emotions is a good way to inhibit emotional eating and can have other benefits as well. Stress relief often lowers blood pressure and improves your outlook on life so you won’t feel it so necessary to comfort yourself with food.
- Treat yourself with other rewards. After a long stressful day, indulge in a hot bath. Light some scented candles and drink a soothing cup of herbal tea.
- Seek help from others. Discuss your emotional eating problems with someone else who understands and can often make you feel better. Talk to a friend or, if you want, go for counseling with a therapist who specializes in emotional eating issues. Just releasing your emotions can help you overcome your stress and cravings.
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