Imagine that you had a hard day at work or school or you have an upcoming exam or even looking forward for your birthday, so you are just upset or stressed out or even happy, you walk in to your house. Do you try to relax or talk to your family about what’s on your mind or do you go straight to the kitchen and grab some food to eat? Would that food be a cucumber or a piece of cake?
So what is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is when people use food as a way to deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger and of course people always go for high-calorie, sweet and fatty food.
Not many of us make the connection between eating and our feelings. But understanding what drives emotional eating can help people take steps to change it.
One of the biggest myths about emotional eating is that it’s prompted by negative feelings. Yes, people often turn to food when they’re stressed out, lonely, sad, anxious, or bored. But emotional eating can be linked to positive feelings too, like the celebration of a holiday feast or going out with friends.
Although some people eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you’re in emotional distress you might turn to impulsive or binge eating, quickly consuming whatever’s convenient without enjoyment.
In fact, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you’re angry or stressed without thinking about what you’re doing.
Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and you likely then bear the additional burden of guilt about gaining weight. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for gaining more weight, you feel bad and you overeat again.
So you need to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I eat more when I am feeling stressed?
- Do I eat when I am not hungry or when I am full?
- Do I eat to feel better (to calm and soothe myself when I am sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do I reward myself with food?
- Do I regularly eat until I’ve stuffed myself?
- Does food make me feel safe?
- Do I feel like food is a friend?
- Do I feel powerless or out of control around food?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, then it’s possible that eating has become a coping mechanism instead of a way to fuel your body.
But don’t worry; there is a way to break this cycle…
Here are some tips you could follow:
- Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food.
- Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
- Get support. You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends.
- Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behavior. Take a walk, watch a movie, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or call a friend.
- Take away temptation. Don’t keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
- Don’t deprive yourself. When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories too much, eat the same foods repeatedly and banish treats. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat, and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
- Snack healthy. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip or unbuttered popcorn. Or try low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if they satisfy your craving.
- Learn from setbacks. If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.