Emotional eating is in which people use food to deal with difficult situations. Many people have experienced emotional eating at some point in their lives. It might depict a bored person munching a bag of chips or a chocolate bar after a hard day at work.
Emotional eating, on the other hand, may have a detrimental influence on people’s life, health, happiness, and weight if it occurs frequently or becomes the primary method they deal with their emotions.
Fast facts about it:
- Emotional eating is characterized by consuming high-carbohydrate, high-calorie meals with low nutritional value in response to stress.
- The main difference between emotional eating and binge eating is the amount of food consumed.
- Like other emotional symptoms, emotional eating is considered the result of a combination of factors rather than a single cause.
- There are several potential warning signs for emotional eating, often known as stress-eating.
- Health experts analyze emotional eating through screening for physical and mental health issues.
What is emotional eating?
We do not always eat to fulfill our physical hunger. Many of us turn to food for comfort, stress alleviation, or self-reward. And when we do, we tend to grab junk food, candies, and other harmful but comforting foods. When you’re feeling depressed, you could go for a pint of ice cream, or if you’re bored or lonely, you might order a pizza or swing by the drive-through after a long day at work.
It is when you eat to make yourself feel better—to meet emotional needs rather than physical ones. Emotional eating, however, does not cure emotional difficulties. It usually worsens your mood. Not only does the initial emotional issue persist, but you also feel guilty as a result of your overeating.
What are the symptoms of emotional eating?
Everyone eats for reasons other than hunger now and again. However, if you often reach for food out of boredom or comfort, you may be eating for emotional reasons.
Common signs are:
- Changing your food habits when your life becomes more stressful
- Eating food when you are neither hungry nor full
- Eating to relieve stress
- Using food as a kind of reward. For example, “That was a difficult task/assignment/argument. I’m in urgent need of some ice cream, sweets, or popcorn!”
What causes someone to eat in response to their emotions?
Your emotional eating might be anything from work stress to money worries, health problems, to relationship problems.
It is a problem that affects both sexes. However, according to research, emotional eating is more common in women than in males.
Negative emotions can result in a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void. Food is thought to temporarily fill the vacuum and offer a misleading sensation of “fullness.”
Other factors include:
- Retreating from social support during difficult times of emotional need
- Avoiding engaging in activities that might otherwise relieve stress, sorrow, and other negative emotions
- Unable to understand between physical and emotional hunger
- Engaging in binge-related negative self-talk episodes. It can become a vicious cycle as a result of this.
- Cortisol levels change in response to stress, leading to cravings
Is emotional eating harmful?
It is normal and acceptable to use food to help you feel better or as a reward on occasion. When emotional eating is your only means of coping with your feelings, it becomes a problem.
In the short term, eating in reaction to emotions may make you feel better. But it does not deal with the underlying cause of your feelings. In the long term, you may feel worse and be more tempted to eat emotionally. As a result, this creates a vicious cycle.
Excessive emotional eating has several negative effects:
- Guilt or shame as a result of eating
- Negative body image
- Weight gain
- Loss of awareness of hunger and fullness cues
- Disordered eating habits such as binge eating, food restriction, and an overall unhealthy connection with food;
- Disorders of eating
How do you get back on track?
You can take steps to control cravings when unpleasant emotions threaten to induce emotional eating. Try the following recommendations to help you stop emotional eating:
Maintain a food diary. Make a note of what you eat, how much you consume, when you eat, how you feel when you eat, and how hungry you are. You may see patterns that show the relationship between mood and eating over time.
Control your stress. If stress is a factor in your emotional eating, consider a stress-reduction method like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
Have a hunger reality check. Is your hunger physical or mental, or emotional? You’re probably not hungry if you ate only a few hours ago and didn’t have a rumbling stomach. Let the craving pass.
Seek support. If you don’t have a strong support system, you’re more likely to fall to emotional eating. Consider leaning on family and friends or joining a support group.
Fight boredom. Instead of eating when you’re not hungry, distract your attention and replace it with a healthy habit. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your pet, listen to music, read, go online, or contact a friend.
Remove all temptation. Keep hard-to-resist comfort foods out of the house. And if you’re feeling depressed or angry, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you’ve calmed down.
Do not starve yourself. When trying to reduce weight, you may restrict calories overly, eat the same foods repeatedly, and avoid threats. This may just boost your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. To help control cravings, eat adequate amounts of healthy meals, have an occasional treat, and get lots of variety.
Eat a nutritious snack. If you have cravings between meals, go for a nutritious snack like fresh fruit, veggies with low-fat dip, almonds, or unbuttered popcorn. Also, try reduced-calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if they fulfill your craving.
Learn from setbacks. If you have an emotional eating episode, forgive yourself and start the next day again. Try to learn from the experience and come up with a strategy for preventing it in the future. Focus on the positive adjustments you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for choosing healthy choices.
When to seek professional help
If you’ve tried self-help methods and still can’t control your emotional eating, talk to a mental health expert about therapy. Therapy can help you in understanding why you eat emotionally and in creating coping strategies. Therapy can also help you figure out whether you have an eating disorder that is connected to emotional eating.