Are there situations, places, or feelings that make you reach for the comfort of food? We all sometimes turn to food for comfort – ice cream when we are feeling low, pizza or drive through after a long day at work. Most emotional eating is usually linked to unpleasant feelings. However, it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event. It’s okay to use food as a reward or to celebrate. It’s when eating is your only way to cope (for example, opening your fridge is your first instinct) that you can get stuck in an unhealthy cycle. This cycle does not allow you to address the real feeling or problems that are underneath.
Emotional eating happens when eating is used to satisfy emotional needs, rather than to satisfy physical hunger. This emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. You often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed. No matter how powerless you feel about food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. Together we can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.
COMMON CAUSES OF EMOTIONAL EATING INCLUDE:
- Stress – When stress is chronic, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods (which give you a burst of energy and pleasure). The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief. This is why we are always hungry when stressed.
- Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence and “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel.
- Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time when you want to give yourself something to do and fill a void in your life. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
- Childhood habits or memories – You may have been rewarded ice cream by your parents good behavior, surprised with pizza for dinner when you got a good report card, or served sweets when you were feeling sad. These habits can often carry over into adulthood. Your eating may also be driven by nostalgia, for cherished memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad or baking and eating cookies with your mom.
- Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. If your family or circle of friends encourage you to overeat, perhaps it’s easier to go along with the group.
If you don’t know how to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits for very long. Diets so often fail because they offer logical nutritional advice, which only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food. In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally.
In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. If you’re depressed or lonely, you call someone who always makes you feel better. You can play with your dog or cat or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento. If you’re anxious, you can expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song. You can squeezing a stress ball or taking a brisk walk. If you’re exhausted, you can treat yourself to a hot cup of tea. You can take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket. If you’re bored, go read a good book. Go out and watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to a creative or sporty activity you enjoy, such as woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, and scrapbooking.