Understanding emotional eating

Our bodies respond to the way we feel.  When you are stressed out, anxious or upset, your body tries to cover up these negative emotions by trying to fill in the emptiness that you feel within. Thus you often turn to food for comfort. An imbalance in your emotional health can cause a change in appetite, constipation or diarrhoea; weight gain or weight loss. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better; eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.

Emotional eating often results in guilt because of the unnecessary calories consumed. Your lack of will power and the fact that you gave in to your cravings makes you even more upset with yourself. You have a hard time keeping a check on your weight and feel powerless over food and your emotions. Food may be a feel good factor at that moment, but the emotions that triggered the hunger do not go away.

Emotional eating does not fix the underlying problem. It usually makes you feel worse as you often feel guilty for overeating.

Emotional hunger is often mistaken for physical hunger.  It is important to differentiate between the two. Here are a few things that can help you do so.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly- The desire to eat seems urgent, and it comes on suddenly as compared to physical hunger, which is gradual. Physical hunger does not demand immediate satisfaction unless you have been starving for a very long time.

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods- One usually craves for foods that are fatty or high in sugar and feel an absolute need to have only that particular food. For instance you crave for ice cream or chocolate when you are feeling low.

Emotional hunger is not satisfied once you’re full- Unlike physical hunger, emotional hunger is never satisfied, and you often end up overeating till you are uncomfortable.

Emotional hunger does not originate in the stomach- In emotional hunger the craving for food is just a feeling and it is something you really cannot get out of your head; whereas in physical hunger you experience hunger pangs in your stomach.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame – This often happens with emotional hunger because you know that your desire to eat was not due to actual hunger.

Here are ways to stop emotional eating.

Identify the trigger- It is important to identify the cause of emotional hunger. It can arise from feeling depressed, stressed, bored or anxious.

Express your feelings in appropriate ways- Learn to deal with feelings that are affecting your emotional health negatively. Sometimes talking about things that are bothering you help, instead of bottling them within. If talking to family or friends does not help, seek advice from a counsellor, or your family doctor or someone who can provide the necessary support and advice.

Find alternate ways of feeding your feelings- Instead of seeking comfort in food, distract yourself. Do some activities you enjoy, call someone who makes you feel better, dance to your favourite song or go for a brisk walk.

Pause when you crave for food- Put off eating for 5 minutes, reflect and give yourself time to make a different decision.

Live a balanced life- Have a positive outlook towards life and try not to focus on negativity. Don’t obsess about stressful situations or problems that you have to deal with in day to day life. Find ways to let go, the things that make you anxious or upset. Do things you enjoy inorder to distract yourself when you are stressed out or overwhelmed.

Calm your mind and body- Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation can help deal with stress and calm your mind and body. Opt for such techniques to regain emotional balance.

Lead a healthy lifestyle-Take good care of yourself. It is important to eat healthy, sleep well and exercise. Stay away from drug and alcohol abuse, which don’t help solve problems but in turn cause other problems.

Improving your emotional health is the key to deal with emotional eating.

Reference: www.helpguide.org/articles/diet-weight-loss/emotional-eating


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