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Emotional Eating: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

Emotional vs. true hunger

Physical hunger

  • It develops slowly over time.
  • You desire a variety of food groups.
  • You feel the sensation of fullness and take it as a cue to stop eating.
  • You have no negative feelings about eating.

Emotional hunger

  • It comes about suddenly or abruptly.
  • You crave only certain foods.
  • You may binge on food and not feel a sensation of fullness.
  • You feel guilt or shame about eating.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

Emotional Eating: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

Emotional Eating: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

https://www.healthline.com/health/emotional-eating

healthline.com

13

Key Ideas

Why food

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 hunger isn’t easily quelled

While filling up could work in the moment, eating because of negative emotions often leaves people feeling more upset than before.

This cycle typically doesn’t end until a person addresses emotional needs head-on.

Ways to cope with stress

Discovering another way to deal with negative emotions is often the first step toward overcoming emotional eating. This could mean writing in a journal, reading a book, or finding a few minutes to otherwise relax and decompress from the day.

Experiment with a variety of activities to find what works for you.

Move your body

Some people find relief in getting regular exercise. A walk or jog around the block or a quickie yoga routine may help in particularly emotional moments.

Try meditation

There are a variety of studies that support mindfulness meditation as a treatment for binge eating disorder and emotional eating.

Simple deep breathing is a meditation that you can do almost anywhere. Sit in a quiet space and focus on your breath — slowly flowing in and out of your nostrils.

Start a food diary

Keeping a log of what you eat and when you eat it may help you identify triggers that lead to emotional eating. 

Try to include everything you eat — however big or small — and record the emotions you’re feeling at that moment.

Eat a healthy diet

Make sure you get enough nutrients to fuel your body. If you eat well throughout the day, it may be easier to spot when you’re eating out of boredom or sadness or stress.

Try reaching for healthy snacks, like fresh fruit or vegetables, plain popcorn, and other low-fat, low-calorie foods.

Remove common offenders

Consider trashing or donating foods in your cupboards that you often reach for in moments of strife. 

Think high-fat, sweet or calorie-laden things, like chips, chocolate, and ice cream. Also, postpone trips to the grocery store when you’re feeling upset.

Pay attention to volume

Resist grabbing a whole bag of chips or other food to snack on. Measuring out portions and choosing small plates to help with portion control are mindful eating habits to work on developing.

Once you’ve finished one helping, give yourself time before going back for a second.

Seek support

Resist isolation in moments of sadness or anxiety. Even a quick phone call to a friend or family member can do wonders for your mood. There are also formal support groups that can help.

Overeaters Anonymous is an organization that addresses overeating from emotional eating, compulsive overeating, and other eating disorders.

Banish distractions

You may find yourself eating in front of the television, computer, or some other distraction. Try switching off the tube or putting down your phone the next time you find yourself in this pattern.

By focusing on your food, the bites you take, and your level of hunger, you may discover that you’re eating emotionally. 

Work on positive self-talk

Feelings of shame and guilt are associated with emotional eating. It’s important to work on the self-talk you experience after an episode.

Instead of coming down hard, try learning from your setback. Use it as an opportunity to plan for the future.

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Start a list of the emotions

Pay attention to your emotions as you start to think about eating (you might feel hungry, or have a craving to eat something). Notice your emotions as you eat, and after as well. 

Pick one emotion to start with

Start with the emotional trigger that occurs most frequently. So if you only have social eating triggers once or twice a week, but you have stress or comfort triggers multiple times a day, choose the latter.

Find a healthy alternative

If the need is a way to cope with stress, you need to find some healthy way of doing that other than eating. If you don’t, then the need will become so strong that you’ll cave and eat.

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Being in Control
Being in Control

To be in control does not mean restraining. A person who is in control should have the capacity and freedom to self-govern.

Rather than fighting with your body, provide it with an auto...

A Holistic Approach

Accepting that it is ok to make mistakes makes us patient and kind towards ourselves, and keeps us on track with our diet goals, as we understand that our urges to overeat are part of the process.

Instead of obsessing over the 'diet' mentality,  it is better to focus on your behavioral changes and new habits, incorporating certain activities in your routine. The focus should be on a healthy and holistic lifestyle.

Eating to Relieve Emotional Discomfort

Eating can be an emotional activity, with deep connections on how our brains and bodies work. Emotional overeaters are:

  • Having a feeling of resentment after neglecting one's own needs to appease others.
  • Feeling undeserving of their success, with a fear of being shamed.
  • Being a perfectionist and being constantly anxious about the possible mistakes.
  • Suppressing of all negative emotions.

Overeaters tend to have an 'all-or-nothing' approach oscillating between an all-good diet or an outright unhealthy one, depending on the particular underlying emotion.

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Awareness Is Key

Emotional eating is sometimes called "mindless eating" because we often don't think about what we're doing and let our unconscious habits or drives take over.

Find Relaxation Techniques

When you’re under stress, your body is likely producing higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that tends to make people crave sweet and salty food—the stuff that’s generally not good for us. 

Create a simple stress management plan, or find stress relievers that fit with your specific situation.

Cope in Healthy Ways

Many people use food to deal with uncomfortable emotions like anger, frustration, and fear. There are healthier ways to cope with emotions:

  • Talking to a friend.
  • Journaling: When you feel like reaching for unhealthy food, reach for a pen instead.
  • Exercise.

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