Do you find yourself turning to food for comfort every time you feel upset or stressed?
A bag of chips or a whole chocolate bar sounds good on a stressful day. However, in the long run, emotional eating could hurt your weight and health in general. Today, we will help you stop emotional eating and find healthier ways to deal with your emotions.
What is emotional eating?
Humans eat to satisfy physical hunger. However, sometimes we find ourselves craving food as a way of dealing with negative feelings and emotions.
Emotional eating is turning to food for comfort and using food to make oneself feel better. When it comes to emotional eating, you are not physically hungry but want to satisfy your emotional needs, and food seems like the best option.
Why food? Negative emotions tend to create a feeling of emptiness, and food gives a false sense of “fullness”—temporarily filling that void.
The emotional eating cycle starts with a trigger—an event that happens to upset you. You then feel an overwhelming urge to eat to make yourself feel better and get rid of any negative emotions. Afterwards, you will feel guilty for not controlling yourself in the presence of food. You might even find yourself gaining more weight than you would like.
Emotional hunger vs physical hunger
To avoid emotional eating, you need to learn to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger.
Physical hunger slowly develops over time. Several hours from your last meal, you might find yourself feeling hungry again. You desire a variety of food, even healthy ones; then you feel full and satisfied, and that is your cue to stop eating. You do not feel any guilt or shame afterwards.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, comes abruptly after a triggering event that upsets you. You find yourself craving certain foods, typically junk food or other sugary snacks. Once you start eating, you find yourself wanting more, and, even then, you will not feel satisfied or full. A feeling of guilt and shame follows.
It is easy to confuse emotional and physical hunger, but they are different. If you can identify which one you are feeling, you can better control your eating habits.
Identifying your emotional eating triggers
To stop emotional eating, you must identify your triggers. What are the feelings and situations that make you turn to food for comfort?
Below are some of the common causes of emotional eating:
- Stress: This can trigger hunger. When you are stressed, your body produces more cortisol—a kind of stress hormone. Cortisol will make you crave salty, fried and sweet foods for a burst of pleasure.
- Boredom: When you are bored and have nothing better to do, eating seems like a good idea. It can occupy your time and provide a distraction for a while.
- Stuffing emotions: Eating can also be a way to “stuff down” any emotion—anger, sadness, loneliness, emptiness, or anxiety. Food can help you ignore negative feelings you do not want to experience at that moment.
- Social influences: Hanging out with other people is a good way to relieve stress. However, in such situations, you might find yourself overeating because everyone else is eating.
- Reward: Positive emotions can also trigger emotional eating. When you have achieved something or during an occasion, it is easy to overeat.
Tips to stop emotional eating
Find other ways to deal with your emotions
To stop emotional eating, you need to develop healthier ways to deal with your emotions. You cannot always turn to food to relieve your feelings.
If you’re feeling bored or lonely, you can reach out to a friend to hang out, go outside, read a book, watch your favourite show, or play with your pet. If you’re feeling anxious, you can listen to your favourite playlist or meditate for a bit. If you’re exhausted, sad or stressed after a long day, make yourself a cup of choco or tea, take a relaxing bath, or laze around on your bed.
Keep a food diary
Write down everything you eat, including the time and place you did it. Keeping a food diary can help you track everything you consume and help you make sense of your eating habits. You will then start seeing if your eating pattern is healthy or unhealthy.
Check if you are actually hungry
Before giving in to your craving, first, check if you are hungry. Is it physical hunger, or did something happen to upset you? Wait for a few minutes to see if it passes. You can also try drinking some water to hydrate yourself.
Waiting and checking in with yourself can help you control your urges more. Even if you end up eating in the end, you now have a better understanding of the situation, and the next time it happens, you can work out a better response.
Develop a healthy lifestyle
When you are well-rested and physically healthy, you can deal with your emotions better.
Move your body. Make exercise a part of your routine. Physical activity can help lighten your mood. Always aim for eight hours of sleep nightly. Lack of sleep leads to low energy levels, and your body might end up craving sugary snacks for that burst of energy.
It is also equally important to give yourself some time to relax. Take time out of your day to unwind without doing anything. Free yourself from stress and any responsibilities to recharge your energy.
Do not underestimate the power of close relationships and having people to support you. Resist isolation in times of emotional stress; turn to your family and friends for comfort. You can also find organisations that offer support to people dealing with overeating, emotional eating, and other eating disorders.
Life can be overwhelming at times, and you might find yourself spiralling into negative emotions. Food can only offer you temporary comfort. It may be hard to resist the temptation at first, but you can do it.
Spend your time with positive people, engage in activities that make you happy, and try to accept and deal with your feelings head-on, even the bad ones.
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