Emotional eating is the tendency to eat in times of stress, anxiety, anger or sadness in order to deal with the situation. With emotional eating, an individual will suppress emotions with food instead of facing them. In recent months, I have taken a closer look at my eating habits. I realize now that I am an emotional eater. I tend to eat or not eat based on my emotions. If I’m angry or anxious or depressed, I don’t eat. I overeat when I feel guilty for eating the wrong foods. I also look for food when I’m bored. With this revelation, I was curious to discover more about emotional eating and what I can do to fight it.
First, recognize the difference between emotional eating and physical hunger. Emotional eating has a sudden onset while physical hunger is gradual. Emotional eating tends to crave certain foods, like sweets, and with physical hunger any food sounds good. Mindless eating is a clue to emotional eating and awareness with physical hunger. After emotional eating, there is no satisfaction once full and physical hunger, there is satisfaction. Emotional eating is often inside your head instead of your stomach. And most important, after emotional eating, there is often string sense of guilt, shame and regret. My biggest time for emotional eating is the idea of food is often inside my head. I’ll wake up at night with the thought that I am hungry. Often times I can fight it. I get up, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water and lay down again and fall asleep. Other times the thought is like a song that wouldn’t end. For instance, last night I woke up with the overwhelming desire to have a piece of cake that my sister baked for my mom’s birthday. The cake wasn’t gluten free and I knew the consequences if I ate it. Ate it anyway I did. This morning I woke up sick to my stomach. Due to the gluten or my guilt and shame? I think it was both.
Second, recognize the triggers which can bring on emotional eating. Stress is a big trigger for many emotional eaters. The need to temporarily silence emotions is another trigger. The need to avoid feelings of anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment and shame. Eating can be used to hide boredom or loneliness. Have you ever been home with nothing to do and you go to the kitchen thinking “I must be hungry.” And you eat simply to give you something to do? Emotional eating also can be from childhood habits. This is my biggest trigger. Growing up in a single-parent family, we didn’t have a lot of treats. So candy, chips and other treats were uncommon. When these treats were in the house or I was somewhere these were available, I hoarded. I ate mindlessly because I didn’t know when I would have them again. Instead of savoring the chance to have such treats, I gorged myself to the point that I would become sick and eventually overweight. You may eat to avoid conflict or conversation. Triggers can be one or all of the above. One method to figure out what your triggers are is to keep a food diary. Write down when you eat, how much you eat, what you eat, how hungry you were and what your feelings or moods were when you ate. Whatever one’s triggers may be, recognizing them is the next step to avoid eating because of them.
Once one has recognized the difference between emotional eating and physical and recognizes the triggers which brings on emotional eating, the next step is to figure out ways to combat the urge for emotional eating. In my research, stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing have helped calm urges. You can give yourself a hunger check: “Am I really hungry? Or am I bored, tired, etc.?” For me, if I’m not willing to fix food, then I am not hungry. If I’m looking for something to grab and eat, then I’m not really hungry. Having a great support systems through friends, family or even a support group is a great way to combat the urges. Having someone to call or reach out to in times of loneliness or depression can help relieve the urge to eat to suppress those emotions. Find an activity that you fill your time if boredom is a trigger or an outlet to relive the urge. A few examples could be exercise, crafts, in my case reading and writing. It is important not to derive yourself. Allow yourself a treat once in a while but focus on healthy eating habits. It is also important to forgive yourself for setbacks. Pick yourself up, brush it off and start fresh. You could even write down what to avoid in the future to keep a certain setback from happening again.
In conclusion, there are many great resources out there to help with emotional eating. I only touched on a few methods to combat emotional eating. The Mayo Clinic website is a great resources and your doctor can probably direct you to some support groups or other methods in your area. Bottom line is you are your greatest enemy as well as your greatest cheerleader. Your inner monologue will help or hurt you if you are listening. Being able to change those thoughts, get help and support when you need it and don’t allow failure to defeat you. You will falter sometimes. The important things is learn from the experience, pick yourself up and start over. For me, I realize that avoiding emotional eating is going to be a lifelong commitment. However, I know that I am not alone in my struggle and I will get better.
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342
Emotional Eating.org: http://www.emotionaleating.org/links.html
Normal Eating: an online support group http://normaleating.com/supportgroup.php