“Emotional eating” is a commonly-used phrase in conversations about weight loss. But what exactly does it mean? Here are five questions and answers about emotional eating.
1. How do you know if you are an emotional eater?
If you’re eating outside of being hungry, it’s emotional. Keep a journal of what you eat and the emotion you felt before you ate it. You could write, “I was feeling lonely and ate a chocolate chip cookie,” which is very revealing. After you identify your emotion, substitute eating with a healthy behavior whenever you feel that emotion again. Write down a few things you can do instead of eating. You could go for a walk or call a friend. Whenever negative emotions come up, automatically refer to this list.
2. What is the difference between real hunger versus emotional eating?
Legitimate hunger pangs are present with true hunger. Even if you are truly hungry, you can still make emotional choices about what to eat. If it’s an occasional indulgence, it’s not a big deal, but when food becomes your therapy, that means that you are medicating your feelings. You are pushing your emotions down with food. The real problem is that emotional eating can lead to high cholesterol, weight gain, and an increase in body fat percentage.
3. Does everyone struggle with emotional eating?
Not everyone struggles with or understands emotional eating. However, there are very few people who eat the correct amount of food to feel satisfied. Most of us have been conditioned to treat bad feelings with food, especially foods high in fat and carbohydrates. There is a reason why chocolate cake is more satisfying than broccoli!
4. What are the feelings that trigger emotional eating?
Emotional eating can be triggered by anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, and/or boredom. You may emotionally eat because of the way you were raised or because of what food meant to your family. We all have positive and negative associations with food. You may also eat when you are hurt or angry at someone–for example, your boyfriend made a negative comment about your weight, and you are eating your negative feelings towards him.
5. What foods do emotional eaters usually choose?
High fat, high sugar, and high carbohydrates: chocolate, ice cream, salty chips, french fries, cookies, and cakes. No one ever craves lean protein and vegetables when they are emotional!
Even if you do have a fairly balanced attitude towards food, you can still be capable of emotional eating. An occasional day of overeating won’t do you that much harm, but if it becomes out of control, makes you feel bad about yourself, and makes you put on weight, you need to find a better way to deal with your emotions. Pay attention to your body and only eat when you are truly hungry, not just to fill time or to make you feel good temporarily.