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Emotional Eating: Why It Happens and How to Stop It

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.

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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 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.

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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Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, from binge eating to calorie counting, or feeling guilty of eating 'bad' foods can wreak havoc on our health and happiness.

The core issue lies within our emotions, and ...

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.

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 autonomous control by allowing all kinds of foods back in your life, yet eating consciously, paying attention to your meals, savoring them fully. Being mindful can maximize your pleasure and minimize your eating.

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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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Eating Distract from Emotions

We often associate eating with relief or even excitement, and it’s only natural that we’d reach for those same feelings when we’re worried or sad.

Why we choose comfort food

Comfort foods don’t tend to be healthy. We want cake or pasta or chips when we’re emotionally eating. We have emotional memories around certain foods, which are more likely to involve your grandma’s lasagna than a salad. 

But after we eat for emotional reasons, we’re replacing our original feelings with the emotions that arise out of eating.

Comfort food

We associate comfort food with positive memories.

Think about all the happy and comforting memories you have involving food. Maybe your family used to celebrate occasions with a trip to the ice cream shop, or maybe your mom or dad used to soften the blow of a bad day with macaroni and cheese. When you’re feeling rejected or anxious today, eating one of those foods is an instant connection to that soothing time.

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Intuitive eating

It is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals.

Essentially, it’s the opposite of a traditional diet. It doesn’t impose guidelines about wha...

The basics

To eat intuitively, you may need to relearn how to trust your body. Distinguish between physical and emotional hunger:

  • Physical hunger. This biological urge tells you to replenish nutrients. It builds gradually and has different signals, such as a growling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. 
  • Emotional hunger. This is driven by emotional need. Sadness, loneliness, and boredom are some of the feelings that can create cravings for food, often comfort foods. 
History of intuitive eating

Some of the concepts of intuitive eating have been around at least since the early 1970s, though the term wasn’t coined until 1995.

The program was built on the principle that diets don’t work and that lifestyle changes and personal care are more important for long-term health.

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... is a question of psychology as much as nutrition. We have to find a way to want to eat what’s good for us.

We make frequent attempts – more or less half-hearted – to change what we...

Food preferences are learned

All the foods that you regularly eat are ones that you learned to eat.  Everyone starts life drinking milk. After that, it’s all up for grabs. 

But in today’s food culture, many people seem to have acquired uncannily homogenous tastes: food companies push foods high in sugar, fat and salt, which means we are innately incapable of resisting them but that the more frequently we eat them, especially in childhood, the more they train us to expect all food to taste this way.

0.3% of young women are anorexic

... and another 1% are bulimic, with rising numbers of men joining them.

What statistics are not particularly effective at telling us is how many others – whether overweight or underweight – are in a perpetual state of anxiety about what they consume, living in fear of carbs or fat grams and unable to derive straightforward enjoyment from meals.

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Intermittent fasting...

 ...is an increasingly popular eating pattern that involves not eating or sharply restricting your food intake for certain periods of time. It may boost your health. However, fa...

Popular regimens of fasting:
  • The 5:2 Pattern: restrict your calorie intake for two days per week (500 calories per day for women and 600 for men).
  • The 6:1 Pattern: similar to the 5:2, but there’s only one day of reduced calorie intake instead of two.
  • “Eat Stop Eat”: a 24-hour complete fast, 1–2 times per week.
  • The 16:8 Pattern: only consuming food in an eight-hour window and fasting for 16 hours a day, every day of the week.
Keep fasting periods short

Longer periods of fasting increase your risk of side effects, such as dehydration, dizziness, and fainting. 

The best way to avoid these side effects is to stick to shorter fasting periods of up to 24 hours — especially when you’re just starting out.

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Mastering mindful mealtimes
  • Cook or prepare food yourself if possible.
  • Don’t scroll through social media when eating.
  • Turn off all streaming services.
Intuitive eating
  • It does not approve the diet culture.
  • It respects all body shapes and sizes.
  • It helps you recognize your body’s cues for hunger and fullness.
  • It helps you evaluate habits you want to change, but without policing food.
  • It helps you liberate from food’s control.
  • It makes you see food as fuel rather than filler.
Reject the diet mentality

Dieting isn’t sustainable. Quick-fix plans cannot deliver lasting results.
T
he first principle of intuitive eating is to stop dieting—and to stop believing societ...

Honor your hunger

Eat a sufficient amount of calories and carbohydrates to keep your body “fed” and satiated. Once you learn to recognize these signals in your own body, it becomes much easier to trust your instincts and repair unhealthy relationships with food.

Make peace with food

Give yourself “unconditional permission to eat.”

People realize they don’t really want that food that was forbidden before; they just got caught up in society telling them they couldn’t have it.

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Intuitive eating

Intuitive eating involves coming to peace with your body’s needs, letting go of the guilt associated with eating and ending the struggle of rules.

Intuitive eating and mindful eating

With mindful eating, there is no explicit rejection of dieting. 

Intuitive eating rejects the diet mentality altogether—that’s the biggest difference.

Principles of intuitive eating
  • Honor your hunger. Reject the diet mentality, make peace with food and challenge the food police.
  • The act of eating. Respect your fullness, and discover the food delight factor.
  • The emotion of eating. Honor your feelings without using food, and respect your body.
  • Exercise—feel the difference.
  • Honor your health.

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