Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Are you one who does really good all day with your food choices, then when night time comes you are craving something sweet? Or maybe after a long day at work you decide to stop at a fast-food chain to grab your favorite meal? Do you find yourself racing to the pantry when you’re feeling down or otherwise upset? Finding comfort in food is common, and it’s part of a practice called emotional eating.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. In fact, it usually makes you feel worse. Emotional eating leaves you with problems unresolved and feeling guilty for overeating.
What might trigger someone to emotional eat?
There are many different reasons why people emotionally eat. The main culprit is usually stress. Stress at work, relationship struggles, health and financial worries. Just to name a few. You can put a big label on all of these stressors called “Adulting” we have put so much on our plate and put so much pressure to get it all done. We are trying to balance a career, a home, a marriage, maybe being a caretaker or raising a family. In this process we have forgotten who we are, what is really important to us, how to stay balanced and remember that tending to our needs along with having fun is an important part of life.
One reason you have cravings or want to snack is tending to your rebellious inner child. The Health Coach Institute calls this a need to be B.A.D. B.A.D. stands for Break out of routine, Act naughty and Do something fun and wild.
When we eat those foods that are deemed “unhealthy” for us this makes it more enticing! Because in some way we feel we are being defiant and this is fun. What age does that sound like??
Another thing we do is at the end of a stressful day or dealing with problems we grab a snack and sit in front of the TV. This could have been a big part of someone’s childhood where the whole family would gather around the living room with popcorn or a type of snack and enjoy each other. This made us feel loved, supported and a sense of belonging. For someone that is struggling with loneliness this may feel really good to do. Maybe when you were younger you were rewarded for something good that you achieved or maybe you had a “bad day” and your mom wanted to cheer you up with some ice-cream?
The thing is we do not even realize that is what we are needing. We equate it to not having will power. Our body is always trying to balance us out and this is the only solution it has come up with.
The other reason why it feels so good to eat comfort foods is because it hits the part of the brain that releases good feeling hormones. This is what we want to feel the most!
What is the difference between really being hungry and emotional eating?
Emotional eating 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 good options
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 hunger doesn't feel bad
What can you do about it?
First you want to identify why you might emotionally eat. Is it because you are stressed, bored or lonely, or child hood memories or habits that bring you more in the space of feeling loved or supported?
If you can imagine that it’s the decision that you make to eat the comfort foods that release the good feeling hormones not the actually food!! Isn’t that mind blowing!!
One thing that you can do is keep a dairy. Get out the notebook or diary when you are getting a craving and jot down what REALLY is going on inside you. What is the stressor or the problem at hand?
I call this a brain dump. Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. Write it all down in your diary: what you ate (or wanted to eat), what happened that upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward.
Over time, you may see a certain pattern forming. Maybe you always end up stuffing your face after spending time with a friend that drains your energy? Or perhaps you stress eat whenever you’re on a deadline or when you attend family functions. Once you identify your emotional eating triggers, the next step is identifying healthier ways to feed your feelings.
This is where Self Care can come into play. Self-Care is not selfish or giving yourself a reward. If you have ever went on an airplane, they tell you that you need to put the mask on yourself first before you help anyone else. Self-care is an attitude that says “I am responsible for myself”, just like you would take care or be responsible for a child.
Recognize that it is ok to take care of yourself, it’s not just ok it’s smart. As Self-care helps prevent burnout, reduces the negative psychological and physical effects of stress., and helps you refocus on what’s true and important.
What does self-care mean for you? This varies from one person to another.
Self-care can be anything from taking a walk, journaling, a yoga class, a warm shower, reading a good book or having a deep conversation.
Self-Care helps us take care of the stress and emotions in the body and mind so we can feel more balanced and grounded.
Lastly, practice mindful eating. Take the time to shut off devices and TVs. Give thanks for the food you are about to eat and really enjoy your meal by eating slower, and savoring every bite. Have candles lit or soft music on playing in the background. Yes, you can enjoy this way of eating even if it is not a special occasion. To have full awareness and being present you are unlikely to keep putting food in your mouth and will be more attentive to eat for energy and not to be full.
Once you understand that this balance is all your body is asking for, you will find more freedom and peace in your body, mind and over all life. Do this with an open mind and non-judgement on yourself.