Definition of emotional eating
Emotional eating is a term used to describe the act of eating when we’re dealing with feelings that don’t necessarily stem from hunger. It can be used in a more general sense, but within this article, I’ll be focusing on emotional eating as it relates to stress and anxiety.
Drawing a hard line between physical and emotional eating can be difficult for some people, and for good reasons. After all, we’re all human and have the same basic needs: love, security, comfort, freedom, and food.
It’s natural that our emotions will often directly affect our physical state of being. Any emotion you’ve ever felt has affected your body; whether it makes you feel energized or lethargic, relaxed or stressed out, passionate or apathetic.
Emotional eating is one of the wrong ways, but comfortable and relaxing, to respond to stressful moments, negative emotions, and difficult situations by consuming certain foods. Emotional eating or compulsive eating is an acute need for foods low in nutrition, but high in calories, usually, high in carbohydrates, salty, or sweet.
This type of food is called comfort food. Ice cream, chocolate, chips, French fries, pasta, pizza, cakes, and candy, but not only, are part of this category.
Here are the causes, manifestations, and implications of emotional eating and how you can overcome them.
9 Common causes of emotional eating
The most common reason people turn to food when they’re feeling sad or stressed is because of a drop in serotonin levels, the same chemical responsible for making us feel happy, which can be caused by a lot of reasons.
Here are 9 common causes of emotional eating:
- When you’re bored
- When you’re stressed
- When you want to reward yourself
- When you’re feeling lonely
- When you’re feeling sad
- When you feel like you’ve let yourself down
- When you feel like others have let you down
- Sleep deprivation.
This drop makes us feel hopeless and agitated.
Some people in this category have cravings especially when they are sad or confused. For others, emotional eating can be a way to avoid thinking about the problems they have or to avoid acting as such to solve them.
Not only do these people eat even though they are not hungry, but they give directly to fats and high-calorie foods. Because they like it and make them feel better. The fatter, sweeter, or saltier they feel, the better they feel.
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Manifestations of emotional eating
Here’s how to tell if your urge to eat is triggered by nervousness in certain situations!
• You eat without realizing you are doing it
• You often feel guilty or ashamed after eating
• You often eat alone or in strange locations such as in the car parked near the building where you live
• After an unpleasant experience, you happen to eat even if you are not hungry
• You feel the need to eat certain foods when you are upset, such as chocolate
• You feel the need to eat in response to external stimuli, for example when you watch certain commercials on TV
• You eat because sometimes you feel like you have nothing else to do
• Eating makes you feel better when you are less focused on the problems you have or when you are worried
How can you differentiate emotional eating from feeling hungry?
The urge to eat on an emotional background can be extremely strong, thus being easily confused with the real feeling of hunger. Here are some tips that can help you differentiate between the two states:
• Emotional hunger is a sensation that starts suddenly – it occurs when you feel sad, depressed, or hopeless.
• When you feel the need to eat in an emotional background, you feel the need for certain types of food or sweets. Instead, when you eat because you are hungry, your body needs a supply of nutrients, you would eat anything, including the healthiest vegetables, to get rid of hunger.
• When you eat in an emotional background, you don’t stop when you feel that you have reached satiety. Instead, when you eat because you are hungry, you stop easily when the body has received the necessary intake of food.
• Emotional eating causes feelings of guilt or shame. When you have remorse, after giving in to this impulse, you know that you have not eaten to cover certain nutritional needs.
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What are the implications of eating in an emotional background?
Eating on an emotional background is a big and unhappy vicious circle – on the spot, it produces a feeling of well-being, but over time, it will create an even greater imbalance. Excessive eating compensates for the loss for a short time, offers relief, but in the long run degenerates into even more stress and upset, because you did not remove the causes, everything had only a momentary effect.
You didn’t get rid of the initial upset either, but, on the contrary, you added another reason to it: that of gaining weight, meant to bring you even less self-respect, and less appreciation from others. Also, overeating initially applied as a temporary solution, is in great danger of becoming a habit. You have replaced a temporary evil with one that threatens to become permanent.
The 7 steps to stop eating emotionally
Although it seems almost impossible to get rid of impulsive eating and there are always situations where you feel the need to eat something fast, you can manage to get rid of this problem. Here’s what you need to do for.
1) Awareness of the problem
Emotional eating is a vicious cycle: you eat because you’re depressed or anxious, but then the food makes you feel even worse because it’s causing the opposite effect of what you wanted.
You might start with a chocolate bar in the afternoon to relieve stress, but an hour later now have a sugar crash and feel even more tired than before. Then your mood goes down further and you reach for something else to eat. And so on.
The best way to stop this is to be aware of when you’re doing it, if you’re feeling down, don’t automatically reach for food! It’s a learned response, so if you can recognize that you’re doing it, you’ll be more likely to stop before it happens. Once you become aware of your actions, some steps can help. Below are 3 of them:
Step 1: Be sure to eat enough food throughout the day so that your body doesn’t sense hunger as an emergency (it’s not). This will prevent binge eating in the future.
Step 2: Keep healthy snacks on hand, salad greens with honey and walnuts for example, that will satisfy your hunger without tipping you into a binge.
Step 3: If a craving strikes (which we all get), acknowledge that it’s there and wait 15 minutes before
Awareness that you are facing this problem is 50% of the solution. Also, you should know that certain foods such as carbohydrates increase dopamine production.
This substance is responsible for balancing your level of good mood and energy, which is why when you experience negative emotions, you feel the need to consume these foods.
2) Analysis of situations in which you feel the need to eat on an emotional background
To better understand why you feel the need to eat emotionally, it is important to consciously analyze the situations in which this impulse occurs. Write down how you feel when this need arises and what triggered the situation.
Emotional eating can be broken down into two categories: hunger and eating to fulfill an emotion. Hunger is a healthy appetite that cannot be soothed by a snack.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is when you eat because you are emotional. Emotional hunger can come from feeling bad about yourself, not being able to cope with stress, feeling lonely or depressed, or even boredom. In these situations, food can seem like the only way to feel better about yourself.
But the truth is that it doesn’t help you deal with your emotions; it just adds unwanted weight to your body and takes away from your mental clarity.
3) Replacing emotional eating with other relaxing actibities
Emotional eating is a warning we receive from the brain, which tells us that we need to change our mood to eliminate stress and negative emotions. To solve this problem, you can replace food with other relaxing activities that help you relax your body, release endorphins, and relax your mind.
Some ideas for coping with emotional eating include exercising, meditating, taking a bath, reading a book, and talking with friends and family members about what you’re feeling, and it doesn’t have to be one thing or another; your activity could incorporate several of these ideas at once.
The important thing is that you find something that works for you to vope with emotional eating. Experimenting with different strategies is important because what works for one person might not work for another.
Maybe exercise is too much effort right now (it can be exhausting if you’re already feeling worn down), so take a bath instead. If watching TV makes you feel like a couch potato instead of tucking into bed early with the latest novel you’ve been meaning to get around to reading, try listening to music instead.
Or you can go shopping or go out with friends, you can opt for an outdoor walk. These activities will give you a chance to escape from the negative state you are in.
4) Initiating a food diary
Emotional eating is a hard habit to break, but if you’re committed to it, there are things you can do to make life easier. One of the most important things is to track your food intake, if you don’t know what you’re eating, it’s a lot harder to be in control of your diet.
But if you keep a food diary regularly, you can notice patterns in your behavior and identify where you’re slipping up. It’s not fun, but it can be helpful.
Start by writing down everything you eat and drink for three days. After that, take a look at what you’ve logged and figure out which foods make up the bulk of your meals.
Start by avoiding those foods that are highest in calories and lowest in nutritional value, for example, sugary drinks like soda or juice, processed foods like chips and candy bars, pasta dinners with lots of cheese, and replace them with things like salads and lean meats and whole grains.
The next step is to use that information for two weeks. Try to keep track of what you’re eating again (it can be easier if someone else does it for you), but this time factor in how hungry or full you are when deciding whether or not to eat something.
A food diary is useful, being one of the best solutions through which we can have immediate control over what and when we eat.
5) The importance of the 3 daily meals
Don’t skip meals. This always leads to poor nutrition. More about the importance of the 3 main meals can be found HERE.
6) Healthy snacks for the moments when you can’t refrain from emotional eating
It is recommended to always have at hand (at home, at the office, in the car) healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, almonds, nuts, dehydrated fruits, whole grains) for the moments when you cannot refrain from food.
Healthy carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits are anti-stress foods that can improve your mood in those moments.
7) Physical exercises to help fight against emotional eating
Physical exercise is proven to help fight against emotional eating by helping to boost your mood and distract you from cravings so that you’re better able to make smart choices when it comes to food.
There are a lot of different ways you can combine fitness and fun to keep yourself from eating at times when your emotions might otherwise take over: try going for long walks with friends or having them come over for dinner and a game of basketball, join a dance class or other group activity that you enjoy, or just throw on some music and get moving around the house.
It is advisable to start a body transformation program, which includes both nutritional changes and physical training, which will help you adopt a healthier lifestyle. When you combine sport with healthy eating and you manage to have the right mindset, there is no problem you can’t solve. You can find HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE home workouts (no equipment needed) that can help you transform your body.
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To summit up:
Now that you have discovered what emotional eating is, how it manifests, and what are the solutions to this problem, you can start a new lifestyle, healthier, and more balanced.
Go to the gym to keep fit (or you can train just as well at home), eat healthily when you are really hungry, and find time for relaxing activities that will gradually eliminate the feeling of emotional hunger.
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