Do the strongest food cravings hit when you’re at your weakest point emotionally? And that bag of chips or ordering fast food is so tempting to you at that moment? That’s the urge to turn to food for comfort. That is what emotional eating is about – whether consciously or not. This temporary comfort may lead to overeating and weight gain, and most times we indulge in the unhealthy stuff so it doesn’t bode well for your health either.
Learn ways to regain control of those feelings, so that you don’t cave when the going gets tough!
Identify your emotional eating triggers
What situations, places or feelings make you reach out for comfort food? Here are some common causes of emotional eating.
Stress / Fatigue – It’s no surprise hunger strikes when deadlines or crisis strikes. Stress activates your adrenal glands to release cortisol, which increases your appetite. Often when we are under stress we do the exact opposite of what our body needs to recover. We sleep less and eat poorly because of our fast-paced lifestyle.
Stuffing Emotions - You eat in response to emotions. You eat when you feel sad, annoyed, disappointed, angry, lonely, hungry and bored. You just reach out for comfort food when you experience these emotions.
Boredom - You seek solace in food. When feeling bored, you occupy your time with junk food such as ice cream, cakes, and other foods with little or zero nutritional value.
Childhood Habits - Studies have shown how parental feeding habits form the development of emotional eating. Or perhaps your eating is driven by nostalgic events. Maybe your parents rewarded you with ice cream when you did something well, or served you sweets when you were down. And these emotionally-based childhood eating habits can carry on to adulthood.
Know the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
Ask yourself: Are you eating in response to physical hunger when you’re low in energy or a rumbling stomach? Or are you eating in response to feeling happy, overwhelmed, scared or disappointed? This would allow you to recognise if you’re trying to satisfy an emotional need rather than a physical need to fill your stomach.
If you are emotional eating, chances are you’re not giving your body the nutrition it needs on a conscious level. You know that the food you are eating is not doing you any good, which leads to guilt or dissatisfaction. When you eat to satisfy a physical hunger, you are fulfilling a nutritional need and giving your body the energy it needs to carry out the day.
Rethink comfort food
To break emotional eating, you should find other solutions to fulfill yourself emotionally and mentally. Take a minute to focus on the long term before you give in to stress eating. You can provide yourself with other alternatives to food that could transform into emotional fulfillments.
When you’re bored, pick up a new interest, read a good book, try a new workout routine or try an outdoor activity.
When you’re fatigued, take a hot shower, treat yourself to a hot cup of tea or go for a nice massage.
When you’re anxious, use a stress ball, groove to your favorite tunes, take a walk or run, or call someone who makes you feel better.
Be mindful and learn stress reduction techniques, how to recognise hunger, and identify your feelings. Accept both the good and the unpleasant ones, focus on your breathing to fight through the automatic urge to reach for a snack, and deal with it in a healthy way.