Do you use food to address your emotional needs, rather than fueling your body? If so, you are one of many people engaging in emotional eating.
It’s common for people to turn to food for comfort, especially in stressful, difficult times. When you’re in middle of an uncomfortable, emotionally draining time in your life, practicing mindful eating can feel like just another task on your plate.
But as you probably know, emotional eating doesn’t make you feel any better afterward. In fact, it leaves you feeling guilty, sad and out of control.
That’s exactly why it’s so important to learn how to practice intuitive eating and focus on using food to fill your stomach, not your emotional voids.
Emotional eating is when you eat in response to negative emotions or stress. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, sometimes occurring when a person is undergoing a stressful, uncomfortable situation, or even when he or she is bored.
For most emotional eaters, food is used to soothe feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger and fear. Research shows that emotional eaters attempt to self-medicate and self-regulate their moods with food, usually in the act of overeating.
Life events that are perceived as negative can trigger emotional eating and even weight gain. But emotional eating can also be used fulfill a feeling of deprivation, which may occur when on a diet or restricting calorie consumption.
An emotional and physical emptiness is being “filled” with food when you eat. For emotional eaters, the food provides a temporary wholeness, but it doesn’t last long.
Emotional eating is an unhealthy cycle that’s repeated over and over again, sometimes allowing the problem to get out of control. For people dealing with daily emotional eating, it’s a type of binge eating disorder.
The emotional eating cycle is continuous. It begins with trigger that leads to discomfort and promotes eating, even if you aren’t actually hungry.
The stages of emotional eating are:
Why do we use food for comfort and engage in this harmful cycle? For many people, the fullness they feel from food takes the place of fulfillment they lack in other areas of life.
There can be a feeling of emptiness that’s stemmed from relationships issues, issues related to self-esteem and worthiness, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
If you’re an emotional eater, you may be getting cues for emotional hunger confused with physical hunger. It helps to understand the difference between the two types of hunger, so here’s a simple breakdown:
Good news — there are ways to combat emotional eating. Research published in the Journal of Eating Disorders indicates that promoting exercise, mindful eating, emotion regulation and positive body image could have positive effects on emotional eaters.
Perhaps the most important step is overcoming emotional or binge eating is identifying your triggers. What situations, conversations, experiences or feelings occur when the cycle begins?
To pinpoint your triggers, try keeping a journal that describes what occurred before you began eating, even when you weren’t physically hungry. Then look for patterns and work to redirect your behavior or reaction to the trigger.
Instead of reaching for comforting foods, have a list of healthy alternatives that will help you to work through the discomfort.
Are you constantly on a diet and restricting calorie intake? If you overthink your meals and snacks and continue a dieting mindset, you may be more likely to “eat your emotions.” This is because you are eating to comfort the feelings of deprivation and you are unsatisfied with your body and diet.
To stop overeating in moments of discomfort, try to eat more mindfully instead of dieting. Pay close attention to your physical hunger cues and prepare filling, healthy meals for yourself.
Humans need to eat to fuel their bodies. You should expect to be hungry several times a day.
Some basic hunger cues are a feeling of lightness in your stomach, growling stomach, headaches and weakness. Ideally, you wouldn’t wait until you’re feeling fatigued to have a meal or snack, but you’d get a sense of when you’ll need more food to maintain energy.
If it’s difficult for you to tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger, try creating an eating routine. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day.
You can also add in one or two snacks, if needed. Your body will adjust to these meal times, and if you feel tempted to eat outside of these times, you’ll have to think twice about whether or not you’re really hungry.
When you’re eating, try to remain fully engaged. Use all of your senses to enjoy the meal, including the taste, smell, colors and texture.
While eating, slow down and make it last. Don’t rush meals, and try not to multitask while you’re eating.
It also helps to sip water in between bites and tune in to your body as you eat, paying attention to the full feeling you get after finishing your portion.
It’s safe to say that many of us need to get more comfortable feeling uncomfortable. It’s normal to have moments of stress, anxiety, embarrassment, fatigue and boredom.
Instead of managing discomfort with food and the act of eating, find another emotional outlet that will help soothe and validate your feelings.
Some healthy ways to ease stress, anxiety and discomfort include:
Be kind to yourself, and avoid negative self-talk. Being judgmental and critical of yourself will only lead to feelings of worthlessness and anger, furthering the emotional eating cycle.
To stop stress eating, you’ll have to change the way you treat yourself and perceive your own value.
The post Emotional Eating: Why Are You Doing It & How Do You Stop? appeared first on Dr. Axe.