People eat for a variety of reasons. For some, food is just a regular part of everyday life that’s used to satisfy hunger and it has no control over who they are or what they do. For others, food can be used as a coping mechanism or as a way to deal with the fluctuating emotions that life often brings.
Food can be used for comfort, security, stress relief, or as a reward. When food is used excessively in this way, it’s called emotional eating. Unfortunately, it never solves the root of the emotional problem.
Understanding Emotional Eating
Have you ever had a bad day at the office and all you can think about when you get home is that pint of chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer? This is emotional eating. Celebrating with food is okay from time to time, but when it’s your primary way of coping, there is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
Eating might make you temporarily forget the problem at hand, but the feelings will still rise again, and in the end, you may feel worse because you have overeaten.
Emotional hunger often comes on suddenly, feels urgent, and requires immediate satisfaction. If you’re an emotional eater, you will also tend to crave specific comfort foods, whereas if you were just physically hungry, almost anything would sound good to eat.
Hunger that stems from emotions often involves cravings for sweet treats, greasy snacks, or other fatty foods. You will also notice that once you’ve eaten what you crave, it likely won’t satisfy and you will just mindlessly eat whatever is in front of you. Once you’ve become aware of what you’ve eaten, it’s common to feel guilty because you know it had no nutritional value.
How do you know if you’re an emotional eater?
If you’re not sure if you’re an emotional eater, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Does food make you feel safe?
- Do you feel like food is a friend?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may be an emotional eater.
Once you know what triggers your emotional eating, work towards finding alternatives to it. If you are feeling lonely, sad, or are experiencing stress at home or at work, reach out to a friend or family member who will make you feel better.
Take a walk, go to the gym and run on the treadmill, or if you need rest, cuddle up with a blanket and watch one of your favorite funny movies. One of the best ways you can combat emotional eating binges is to take an active role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle by connecting with others, making time to relax and unwind, and exercising on a regular basis.