Emotional Eating

Have you ever had cravings for food?  Notice that these cravings for the bad kinds of food (fast food, sweets, pizza) happen when you may be emotionally at your weakest?  There is a connection between your moods and feelings and how much you are eating.  Comfort food anyone?

Emotional eating is eating when not hungry.  Your emotions trigger you wanting to eat, not the physical aspect that you need to.  According to Mayo Clinic, emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Both major life events and the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts.  Examples can include, job loss, financial issues, stress, and fatigue.

When you are going through these events and/or emotions, you may not even realize you are eating what you are, because most of the time, you aren’t even enjoying or really tasting what you are eating.  Food is a distraction for what is really going on in your life. 

How can you tell if you are emotionally eating?

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly while actual hunger is more gradual (think of the rumble in your stomach).
  • You eat past feeling full because your feelings are still not satisfied.
  • You have a craving for more specific foods, pizza, cookies, McDonald’s.
  • Emotional eating may leave you with feelings of guilt after a binge.

Comfort foods

According to WebMD, comfort foods are foods a person eats to obtain or maintain a feeling they are often wrongly associated with negative moods, and indeed, people often consume them when they’re down or depressed, but interestingly enough, comfort foods are also consumed to maintain good moods.  What are the most common comfort foods?  #1 ice cream, then for females, chocolate and cookies, for men, pizza and streak.  Also depending on which emotions you are actually feeling may drive you toward specific foods as well.  People in happy moods tended to prefer … foods such as pizza or steak (32%). Sad people reached for ice cream and cookies 39% of the time, and 36% of bored people opened up a bag of potato chips.

Some people do eat less when they are emotional which also can be a problem.  If you aren’t eating enough healthy foods, your body is not getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients to survive.  Long-term lack of eating will cause health issues.

So what can you do?

  1. Recognize you may be eating due to your emotions.  Stop and look at what you are craving, and if you are really hungry.
  2. Reduce your stress.  Do activities other than eating to relax; workout, yoga, read a book, take a walk.
  3. Keep a food diary.  Notice and take note of what triggered any emotional eating.
  4. Don’t eat when you are bored-don’t allow yourself to get bored!  Do activities to keep you active.  Take up a hobby.
  5. Keep tempting foods out of your house.  Don’t buy cookies, ice cream, or any foods you know you may reach for them when stressed.
  6. But don’t deprive yourself.  If you love sweets, allow yourself to have some in moderation so you won’t get cravings and over eat when those emotions arise.
  7. Sleep.  If you are tired, you may grab more sugary snacks to keep yourself going during the day. 

The Bottom Line

We aren’t perfect and chances are we will reach for that food that makes us feel good when we are tired, bored, stressed or emotional.  If it happens, don’t beat yourself up, practice moderation and control.  If you want ice cream, have a 1/2 cup of low-fat, if you craze pizza, order thin wheat crust with veggies and go for a run later that night.  If you have tried self-control options and still are compromising your health (gaining weight, diagnosed with diabetes, have pain) you can seek help.  Therapy may be a way to help you understand your motivates for this kind of eating and learn skills that will keep you away from comfort foods.

Sources: July 2000 American Demographics, Mayo Clinic, WebMD

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