One of the things that I have been guilty of my whole life is feeding my feelings, I have recently researched the effects my moods have on what food I choose to have, as I’m always looking for comfort food when I’m upset then feeling guilty about eating it afterwards making me depressed and starting the whole vicious circle again. But its time for that to stop! so I am eating a lot healthier and training my brain with the following information so that I’m able to recognise when If eating emotionally or if I’m actually hungry.
We don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. It usually makes you feel worse. Afterwards, not only does the original emotional issue remain, but you also feel guilty for overeating. Learning to recognize your emotional eating triggers is the first step to breaking free from food cravings and compulsive overeating, and changing the habits that have sabotaged your diets in the past.
Understanding emotional eating
If you’ve ever make room for dessert even though you’re already full or dove into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, you’ve experienced emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.
Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed. You beat yourself for messing up and not having more willpower. Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.
Are you an emotional eater?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
Before you can break free from the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially if you regularly use food to deal with your feelings.
Emotional hunger can be powerful. As a result, it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for that can help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
- Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
- Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
- Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
- Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
- Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
|Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger|
|Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.||Physical hunger comes on gradually.|
|Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly.||Physical hunger can wait.|
|Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods.||Physical hunger is open to options–lots of things sound good.|
|Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.||Physical hunger stops when you’re full.|
|Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame.||Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.|
Common causes of emotional eating
- Stress – Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, it leads to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods—foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.
- Stuffing emotions – Eating can be a way to temporarily silence or “stuff down” uncomfortable emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the emotions you’d rather not feel.
- Boredom or feelings of emptiness – Do you ever eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life? You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
- Childhood habits – Think back to your childhood memories of food. Did your parents reward good behaviour with ice cream, take you out for pizza when you got a good report card, or serve you sweets when you were feeling sad? These emotionally-based childhood eating habits often carry over into adulthood. Or perhaps some of your eating is driven by nostalgia—for cherishes memories of grilling burgers in the backyard with your dad, baking and eating cookies with your mom, or gathering around the table with your extended family for a home-cooked pasta dinner.
- Social influences – Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating. You may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness. Or perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group.
Alternatives to emotional eating
- If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favourite photo or cherished memento.
- If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favourite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
- If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
- If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).