Food is a good thing, especially when it’s eaten right. One would ask, “When is eating food not a good thing “? The answers are numerous. There are times when eating food can be done wrongly. I will tell you one of such scenarios and it is called “emotional eating”.
Emotional eating also known as stress eating, in simple terms, is “using food to make yourself feel better, to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach”.
Hunger is the most rudimentary reason for eating. However, there are times when we don’t just eat to satisfy physical hunger. We sometimes turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves, and when we do this, we tend to reach for junk food, sweets, and other comforting but unhealthy foods.
A short example of emotional eating would be reaching for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, ordering a pizza because you are bored or lonely, or swinging by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. The unfortunate thing though is that emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse afterward. Not only does the original emotional issue remain, you also feel guilty for overeating, and you may just upset your bowels completely, which may result in you being in a worse condition than where you started.
When eating becomes the go-to or primary emotional coping mechanism, it becomes emotional eating. That way, your first impulse when something bad happens or you are stressed, is to open the refrigerator. This gets you stuck in a rather unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
One thing to know for sure is that emotional hunger cannot be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating will remain. Often times, you feel worse than you did before, because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.
If you don’t start learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you may have a harder time controlling your weight, and you will feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings. On a lighter note, no matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can learn more effective ways to deal with your emotions, avoid triggers, conquer cravings, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.
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 as powerful as physical hunger, so it is easy to mistake both kinds of hunger. However, there are clues you can look for to help you differentiate between physical and emotional hunger.
Firstly, emotional hunger happens 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).
Secondly, emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you are physically hungry, almost anything sounds good, including healthy stuff like vegetables. On the other hand, emotional hunger will make you crave junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You start to feel like you must eat that cupcake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
Another way to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger is that emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating, because before you know it, you may have 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 are typically more aware of what you’re doing.
The fourth thing to note is that 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.
To add to these points is to also understand that emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. Whereas, when you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you are unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it is most likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons. In essence, you are stress eating.
There are some factors that causes Emotional eating and they include:-
This should not come as a surprise, or should it? Have you ever noticed how stress makes you hungry? It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic; your body produces high levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried 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. This does not sound like good news to a Lagosian. Lagos is nothing if not stressful.
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 temporally avoid the difficult 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 that moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life. This is emotional eating, you need to stop.
This isn’t a major factor, but that does not make it any less harmful. When you think back to your childhood memories of food, you sometimes remember how your parents or guardians rewarded good behavior with ice cream, or take you out for pizza when you got a good grade. Do you remember your parents serving you sweets when you were feeling sad? These habits can often carry over into adulthood. In other words, your emotional eating may be driven by nostalgia.
Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It is 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. Perhaps your family or circle of friends encourages you to overeat, and it’s easier to go along with the group. You shouldn’t.
Now that we have made the first step and identified different factors that cause emotional eating. We can now identify your personal triggers, the situations, places, feelings or even people that make you reach out for the comfort of food. Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event.
How do we conquer Emotional eating?
- One major way to conquer emotional eating is to replace your triggers reaction with a positive alternative. For instance, if you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with a pet if you have one, or look at a favorite photo.
- When anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite songs, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
3. In the case of exhaustion, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
4. If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a movie, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing musical instruments, scrapbooking, even laundry etc.).
Other ways include:-
- Making daily exercise a priority. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and energy levels, and it is also a powerful stress relieve.
2. Aim for more decent hours of sleep every night. When you don’t get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings.
3. Make time for relaxation. Give yourself permission to take at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. This is your time to take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
4. Connect with others. Don’t underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.
When you are successfully able to do these, you will get rid of stress eating and start to eat for the right reasons.