This article is part of a blog series to help you:
- Identify emotional eating and
- Heal emotional eating (To be published 28/10/2020)
Let us dive right into the complexity that emotional eating is.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL EATING?
Emotional eating is basically eating for reasons other than hunger.
It is when we use food to make ourselves feel better—eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.
We all eat when we are upset/ stressed/ happy/ celebrating great achievements or bored and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
But it becomes a problem if emotional eating is your only coping mechanism with difficulties in life. You can take this quiz to determine how often you rely on emotional eating.
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The real reason for emotional eating
Much of the time, food has emotional associations. We often forget how deeply food is tied to the need for comfort and safety.
This all begins at birth. Soon after a baby is born, he or she is offered milk. That first taste of milk may set the stage for associating pleasure and comfort with a stressful situation.
This association deepens when food is offered to soothe heartaches, celebrate events, and show love—when food becomes a comfort, a reward, and a reliable friend.
Negative emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void. Food is believed to be a way to fill that void and create a false feeling of “fullness” or temporary wholeness.
Emotional eating covers a wide spectrum of emotions. It can be as positive as pleasure when eating a slice of wedding cake or as destructive as eating to numb difficult feelings or even to punish yourself as a result of negative self-talk. Take this quiz to determine how often you rely on emotional eating.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY EMOTIONAL EATING
Before we can break the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional hunger and physical hunger. It can be difficult to do, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.
Emotional hunger can be powerful and can easily be mistaken with physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for that can help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
If you are unsure how often you use emotional eating to deal with difficulties in life – this quiz will help you determine that.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EMOTIONAL HUNGER AND PHYSICAL HUNGER
EMOTIONAL HUNGER COMES ON SUDDENLY
Emotional eating hits you immediately and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger comes on more slowly. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as pressing and it does not demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
EMOTIONAL HUNGER CRAVES SPECIFIC COMFORT FOODS
Emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need chocolate or chips, and nothing else will do. When you are physically hungry you will eat almost anything – including healthy food like vegetables or fruit.
EMOTIONAL HUNGER LEADS TO MINDLESS EATING
Have you ever eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire slab without really noticing or fully enjoying it? When it’s finished you are almost surprised. You are usually more aware of the food, taste, and texture you are eating when you eat in response to physical hunger.
EMOTIONAL HUNGER ISN’T SATISFIED ONCE YOU’RE FULL
When eating in response to emotional hunger you keep wanting more and more food, often eating until you’re stuffed. Physical hunger doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
EMOTIONAL HUNGER ISN’T LOCATED IN THE STOMACH
Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
EMOTIONAL HUNGER OFTEN LEADS TO REGRET, GUILT, OR SHAME
You are unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed when eating to satisfy physical hunger because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
You can use this hunger scale from Nutrition Cheat Sheets to determine when you are really physically hungry.
Step 2: Identify your emotional eating triggers
We eat for many different reasons and to stop emotional eating you first have to identify your personal triggers. Here are some common triggers with examples:
• Anxiety/ angry—using food to calm yourself
• Boredom—eating as something to do
• Bribery—“Finish your homework, and you can have a treat”
• Celebration—food accompanies most events
• Emptiness—eating from a lack of spiritual meaning
• Excitement—using food as something fun
• Feeling lonely or unloved—using food as a friend
• Frustration, anger, rage—eating as a release
• Loosening the reins—eating as an outlet from a self-imposed militaristic or perfectionist life
• Mild depression—carbohydrates can increase serotonin—the “feel better” neurotransmitter
• Self-soothing when upset—eating as a comforting or consoling activity
• Procrastination—“I’ll do that task after I eat something”
• Reward—“I just closed that deal—now I deserve that big piece of chocolate cake”
• Stress—food for relief
* Sleep deprived – eating to compensate for a lack of energy
How to identify your triggers:
- Start paying attention (without judgement).
- Develop an attitude of curiosity and compassion regarding your eating habits.
Don’t think you’ve done something wrong when you used food to cope with their feelings.
Actually when you look at the triggers you can see that you were simply taking care you yourself the best way that you could at the time.
You grasped for the most accessible coping mechanism they could find—food.
Keeping an emotional eating dairy can be a strategy to identify certain patterns.
Now that we have identified emotional eating in our lives, it is time to implement strategies that will help us heal emotional eating. Part two of this emotional eating series will be launched on 28/10/2020.
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I have created a quiz for you to help you determine how often you rely on emotional eating and how much emotional eating is affecting your life. Click on the button below to go to the quiz.
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