Are you guilty of emotional eating, comfort eating, shame eating, eating your feelings, and eating to fill a void?
Finding comfort in food is quite prevalent.
This practice is what is commonly known as emotional eating.
If you are an emotional eater, you turn to food to soothe or suppress your negative feelings.
Often, you can feel shame and guilt after and this leads to a cycle of eating excessively.
This can also result in associated issues such as weight gain.
What is Emotional Eating, Stress Eating Disorder, or Emotional Eating Disorder?
Many people don’t eat just to satisfy their physical hunger.
If you turn to food for stress relief, hunger, or to reward yourself, you are an emotional eater.
Most emotional eaters don’t always reach for healthy foods but opt for the opposite like sweets and junk foods.
If you are an emotional eater, chances are you will swing by the drive-through after a long and stressful day, order pizza if you are lonely or bored and reach for a pint of ice cream when you are feeling sad.
In essence, emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better.
In other words, you use food to feel better—to fill some emotional needs rather than your stomach.
However, emotional eating won’t fix any of your emotional problems.
In fact, it will only make you feel worse and complicate things.
The emotional issue you are facing will remain and you will feel guilty for overeating.
Are You an Emotional Eater?
If you want to know if you are an emotional eater, ask yourself the following important questions:
- Do you eat more when you are feeling sad or stressed?
- Do you eat even if you are not hungry?
- Do you eat even if you are full?
- Do you eat to feel better? (to soothe and calm yourself down when you are feeling mad, bored, anxious, sad, or stressed?)
- Do you reward yourself by eating your favorite food?
- Do you eat until you have stuffed yourself?
- Do you feel safe when you eat?
- Do you see food as a friend?
- Do you feel out of control or powerless around food?
If you answered yes to one or more of the following questions, you are an emotional eater.
The Cycle of Emotional Eating
Using food occasionally as a reward or pick-me-up is not exactly a bad thing.
However, if you turn to eating as your main emotional coping mechanism when you are upset, angry, sad, bored, lonely, exhausted, or stressed, you will become stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real problem is not addressed.
You cannot fill emotional hunger with food.
Eating can feel good in the moment but the feelings that triggered the emotional eating will still be there until you address it accordingly.
Often, you will feel much worse than before because of the extra calories you have consumed.
As a result, you can also end up beating yourself up for not having any willpower and for messing up.
You will also compound the problem if you turn to food rather than finding healthier ways to deal with your emotions.
You will have a difficult time controlling your weight and you can become increasingly powerless over your feelings and your emotional eating.
The good thing is no matter how powerless you feel about your emotions and food, you can change things for the better.
It is possible for you to find healthier ways to deal with your emotions and issues, conquer your cravings, avoid triggers, and stop emotional eating for good.
Differences Between Physical and Emotional Hunger
For you to be able to successfully break free from the unhealthy cycle of emotional eating, you first need to know the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
It is important to remember that emotional hunger can be very powerful so it is easy to mistake it for physical hunger.
That said, differentiating emotional and physical hunger is often trickier than it sounds. This is especially true if you have been using food to deal with your feelings.
Below are some ways you can differentiate physical and emotional hunger:
- Emotional hunger can come all of a sudden. Emotional hunger feels urgent and overwhelming and can hit you in an instant. Physical hunger on the other hand comes on more gradually. Your urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire and won’t demand instant satisfaction even if it has been many hours since the last time you ate.
- Emotional hunger causes you to reach for comfort foods. When you are physically hungry, you are willing to eat almost anything, including healthy options like vegetables and fruits. However, when you eat emotionally, you will crave foods that will provide an instant rush like sugary snacks or junk foods.
- Emotional hunger leads to mindless eating. If you are an emotional eater, you can eat a pint of ice cream or a whole bag of chips without fully enjoying it or paying attention to what you are eating. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you are more mindful about what you are eating and how you are eating.
- Emotional hunger is not satisfying. Even if you have eaten a lot of sugary treats or junk foods, you still keep wanting more and you are not satisfied. Often, you will continue eating until you are uncomfortably stuffed. On the other hand, physical hunger won’t result in you stuffing yourself unnecessarily. If you are satisfying a physical hunger, you will feel satisfied once your stomach is full.
- Emotional hunger doesn’t stem from the stomach. Rather than feeling a pang in your stomach or a growling belly, emotional hunger manifests as a craving you cannot get out of your head. You also focus on tastes, smells, and textures.
- Emotional hunger results in shame, guilt, or regret. When you eat to satisfy your physical hunger, you won’t feel ashamed or guilty about giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after eating, it is likely because you know deep down that you are not eating for nutritional reasons.
How to Combat Emotional Eating
To combat emotional eating, you need to find other ways to satisfy yourself emotionally. You need to find alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment. Some of the alternatives you can look into include:
- If you are lonely or depressed: play with your pet, look at a cherished memento or favorite photo, call someone you trust who makes you feel better.
- If you are anxious: squeeze a stress ball, take a brisk walk, dance to your favorite song, or read a good book.
- If you are exhausted: take a bath, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, light some scented candles, treat yourself with a cup of tea.
- If you are bored: watch a comedy show, go outdoors, find an activity you enjoy (playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
Supporting Yourself with a Healthy Lifestyle
When you are strong physically and you are well rested and relaxed, you are able to handle the curveballs that life throws your way.
However, when you are overwhelmed and exhausted, even a little hiccup can send you off the rails and cause you to head straight to your refrigerator.
Sleep, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits can help you get through emotional eating without emotional eating.
- Make exercise a priority. Physical activity can do wonders for your energy levels and mood. It can also be a powerful stress reducer. Fortunately, integrating exercise into your daily routine is a lot easier than you think.
- Try to sleep for 8 hours each night. When you are deprived of sleep, your body will crave sugary foods to give you a quick energy boost. Getting enough sleep and sufficient rest can significantly reduce your food cravings and help you control your appetite.
- Make time for relaxation. Give yourself at least 30 minutes each day to decompress, relax, and unwind. The time should also be used to recharge your batteries and not think of anything like your problems or responsibilities.
- Connect with others. It pays not to underestimate the importance of participating in social activities and establishing close relationships. Spending time with positive people who can help enhance your life and deal with stress can help you deal with stress effectively.
Replacing food with some of the solutions above can help you overcome emotional eating for good. While some of the tips can require time and effort, they are worth it. Also, don’t forget to be gentle and patient with yourself. Overcoming emotional eating is a process but it’s worth all the effort.