Do you turn to food to feel better, de-stress, and calm down? If your answer is “yes” – this article is for you!
In it, we will get to know emotional eating closely and we will explore the causes of emotional eating, the negative effects it can have on our health and well-being, and steps we can take to overcome it. You will learn to recognize the causes that trigger it and how to find alternative and healthier ways to manage your feelings and emotions.
Emotional eating is a common issue that occurs when people turn to food as a way to cope with their emotions. It is a type of eating that is triggered by emotions rather than physical hunger, and it can lead to weight gain and other negative health consequences.
Emotional eating can be challenging to overcome, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to develop a healthy relationship with food.
What is “emotional eating”?
Not all people eat simply to satisfy their hunger. Many of us actually turn to food as a means of comfort, escape from stress, to kill boredom and to reward ourselves. And in these cases, it is usually not healthy food, but things like processed carbohydrates and trans fats, in the form of sweets, fast food and sugary soft drinks.
Just remember the common movie cliché of a depressed character scooping ice cream with a spoon… In real life it’s often like that too.
Unfortunately, however, emotional eating does not solve emotional problems… In fact, quite the opposite – it usually makes them worse. Leading to a vicious circle from which it is difficult to get out.
The cycle of emotional eating
Using food as a means of reward or celebration is not necessarily a bad thing when it happens occasionally and infrequently. But when food becomes your primary coping mechanism and your first reaction to boredom, stress, and negative emotions is to reach for the fridge, you subtly enter a vicious cycle of suppressing problems, in which the real cause of those problems never gets dealt with.
Emotional hunger cannot be satisfied with food. Eating may make you feel good in the moment, but the feelings that caused that eating are still there. And you often feel worse than before because of the unnecessary calories you just consumed. And as a result, you blame yourself for having messed things up even more.
As the cycle tightens and the problem deepens, you gradually stop looking for healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you find it increasingly difficult to control your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.
But no matter how powerless you feel in the moment – you should know that it is always possible to achieve positive change!
You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, avoid the triggers that cause them, beat the cravings for junk food, and eventually – overcome emotional eating altogether.
And before that, let’s clearly distinguish the differences between physical and emotional hunger, so that you can determine for sure whether you really have problems with emotional eating or you just have a big appetite.
Differences between physical and emotional hunger?
Physical hunger is a natural, physiological feeling that occurs when the body needs food to fuel the metabolic processes. It is characterized by a growling stomach, a feeling of emptiness or weakness, and a lack of energy. Physical hunger typically develops gradually over time and can be satisfied by eating a variety of foods.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is triggered by psychological or emotional factors, rather than a physical need for food. It is often driven by feelings such as stress, boredom, loneliness, or sadness. Unlike physical hunger, emotional hunger is typically sudden and intense and can be triggered by specific cravings for certain foods, such as comfort foods. Emotional hunger is often less about nourishment and more about using food to cope with difficult emotions.
Emotional hunger is harder to control than physical hunger, it may come even if you had food before and you are not hungry. It is important to be aware of the difference between physical and emotional hunger and respond accordingly, rather than eating out of habit or as a way to deal with emotional stress.
Once you are aware of the difference between physical and emotional hunger, if you come to the conclusion that your problem is actually emotional eating, the first step in solving it is to find out what are the reasons that lead to it and pay attention to them.
Emotional eating is usually associated with unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a happy event.
Common causes of emotional eating
The underlying causes of emotional eating can vary from person to person, but some common triggers include:
Stress: Stressful situations or events can trigger feelings of anxiety or sadness, which can lead to emotional eating as a way to cope with these feelings.
Boredom: Many people turn to food when they are bored, as a way to fill time or to distract themselves from feelings of emptiness or loneliness.
Loneliness: People may use food as a form of comfort when they are feeling lonely or disconnected from others.
Low self-esteem or negative body image: Some people may eat to cope with feelings of inadequacy or to distract themselves from negative thoughts about their appearance.
Trauma or past negative experiences: Trauma, such as abuse or neglect, can lead to emotional eating as a way to cope with painful memories or feelings.
Genetics or biology: Studies show that some people may be more prone to emotional eating due to genetic predispositions or imbalances in certain hormones or neurotransmitters that affect appetite and emotional regulation.
Childhood habits. Sometimes the reason for emotional eating is deeply rooted in us, from childhood. Did your parents reward good behavior with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got good grades in school, or did your grandmother make you cookies when you were feeling down? These habits can often carry over into adulthood and make food a frequent means of reward rather than simply a hunger state.
Social influences. Eating with other people is a great way to socialize and relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge just because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. In other words, you succumb to social pressure.
It’s important to note that emotional eating is a complex behavior and often has multiple causes. Finding the root cause(s) and addressing them accordingly along with developing healthy coping mechanisms can be helpful in managing emotional eating.
Better alternatives to emotional eating
If you don’t know how to control your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits. Even the best diet can fail. Even if it is logical and nutritious, it will only work if you have conscious control over your eating habits. And that doesn’t work when emotions disrupt the process, pushing you into seeking instant gratification.
To stop emotional eating, you need to find other ways to emotionally satiate yourself and control your mind. Here are some suggestions:
When you are depressed and feeling lonely – call someone who always makes you feel better (relative or friend). And if you often feel this way or if you don’t have many friends and family – a pet is a great alternative. Dogs, cats – no matter your choice, furry friends can be really valuable emotional support in difficult times and make our lives much brighter and more pleasant.
In case of nerves and stress, the goal should be to use up the accumulated negative energy and relax. You can do it by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, intense strength training or a brisk walk.
In case of emotional and physical exhaustion – treat yourself with a cup of hot tea, take a hot shower or a long bath, breathe deeply and relax, give yourself time to rest and sleep. If while you are resting, thoughts about food creep into your mind – find another activity like listening to pleasant music or an interesting podcast. Something to occupy your mind without requiring any further action on your part.
In case of boredom, the solution, of course, is to find an activity to fill your time, not your stomach. Read a book, watch a funny comedy, go for a walk or focus on activities you enjoy – training, dancing, playing an instrument, sports… You need a hobby. Don’t be afraid to try different things until you find what gives you the most pleasure
How to deal with negative emotions
Well, you already have ideas on how to replace emotional eating with more useful and enjoyable activities to help you overcome negative emotions.
But an even more effective approach to getting out of the vicious circle is to find a way to eradicate or at least significantly limit negative emotions in your daily life by protecting yourself from them as best you can.
When you’re physically strong, calm, and well-rested, you’re also better able to handle the curve balls that life inevitably throws your way. But when you’re already exhausted and overwhelmed, every little obstacle in your daily routine has the potential to send you off the rails and straight to the fridge.
Exercise, sleep and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times easily and without emotional eating. Here’s where to start:
- Make exercise and sports a regular part of your daily life. Physical activity does wonders for our mood and energy levels, and it’s also a powerful stress buster. And building an exercise habit is easier than you think.
- Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. The reason is again both psychological and hormonal. Lack of sleep is a form of stress, and stress and elevated stress hormones often lead to increased hunger and emotional eating. On the other hand, optimal rest time will help to control the appetite and will specifically reduce the appetite for unhealthy food.
- Allow yourself at least 30 minutes each day to relax and rest. In this way, you will be able to leave your duties for a while and recharge your batteries.
- Do not underestimate the importance of relationships with loved ones and social activities. Spending time with positive people who improve your life will help you protect yourself from the negative effects of stress and minimize unpleasant emotions.
- Practice mindfulness: When you do eat, pay attention to your food and your body’s hunger and fullness signals. This can help you become more aware of your eating habits and make better choices.
- Seek support: It can be helpful to work with a therapist or a support group to address the underlying emotional issues that contribute to emotional eating.
Emotional eating is a common issue that many people struggle with. It occurs when people turn to food as a way to cope with their emotions rather than physical hunger, and it can lead to weight gain and other negative health consequences. To overcome emotional eating, it is important to identify the triggers that lead to this behavior.
Remember that overcoming emotional eating is a process and it may take time. Be kind to yourself and try to focus on making small, sustainable changes rather than trying to make drastic changes all at once. With patience and persistence, it is possible to develop a healthy relationship with food and overcome emotional eating.
We’ve helped hundreds of clients overcome emotional eating and take control of their health and fitness. If you want us to help you, CLICK HERE and book a free consultation.