What is emotional eating and how you can overcome it?

By Patrick Banks

Posted 2 months agoHEALTH

How do you cope with stressful or emotional situations? Do you rush to your fridge, take your Mars bar and swallow it down or call for pizza delivery? If the answer is yes, then my dear friend, you’re an emotional eater.

What is emotional eating you may ask? It’s a situation where you’re using food to comfort yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hungry or not; you have to eat something to make yourself feel better. Does it work? The answer is usually not, but more about it later.

There are a few solutions to deal with this stress eating foe. One example would be planning your meals and making them healthier. You can do it alone or order somebody to do it for you. There are plenty of restaurants that offer special healthy meals plans. If you want to check it out and choose one for yourself, here’s a Meal Delivery Experts comparison.

Okay, enough of this introduction. Now it’s time to learn more about what is stress eating and how you can overcome it. Let’s answer a couple of questions first, shall we?

What is emotional eating?

The answer to that question is simple- it’s a defence mechanism. Stress eating is a way your organism copes with certain situations that can cause various emotions. It can be something stressful, sad or even joyful. It doesn’t matter. If your first response is opening your fridge, it can lead to the dangerous emotional eating cycle.

Why dangerous? Because let’s face the truth, we all have to cope with tons of different situations throughout the day. Now, if your defence mechanism is food, then you’ll be eating far more than you should before you realize that something is not right and you’ll find yourself overweight, thinking how to get a smaller waist and keep yourself healthy.

That may make you unhappy, and guess what will happen when you’re down. That’s right. You’ll eat more to comfort yourself. The worse you feel, the more you eat. And you know what the worst thing about it is? You won’t even feel better; on the contrary, you’ll feel guilty that you overeat. And when you feel that way what will happen? You’ll eat more. Can you see the pattern?

That’s why it’s essential to react as fast as you can. When you catch yourself at the beginning of this emotional eating cycle, you need to do everything you can to stop it before it becomes the habit. If you’re too late, you’ll trap yourself inside it, and it will be much harder to escape.

What can cause emotional eating?

As mentioned before, many situations may cause emotional eating. Sometimes they don’t even have to be negative. In many cases, when we achieve something, we want to reward ourselves with a great meal.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, it’s the negative situations that cause emotional eating. The most usual triggers are stress, habits, boredom, and social influences. We discussed stressful situations before so let’s focus on the other three.

Firstly, habits. They can often date back to your childhood. Remember eating ice-cream after getting an A? Or the times when your parents gave you some sweets or made you your most favourite dinner when you were feeling sad?

These are just some examples of how childhood habits can interfere with your adult life. Sometimes you eat when feeling certain emotions because your parents taught you that this is the best way to deal with them.

The second thing mentioned is boredom. Sometimes you don’t have anything to do. Let’s say you’ve just finished your book or a game and don’t know what to do next. What do you do? You eat. 

Why do you do that? Because food is a great way to distract yourself. It’s a fast and easy way to make you feel that you’re doing something. All you have to do is open your mouth and put something in it (that’s what she said).

Now, let’s get to the third cause of emotional eating- social influences. It turns out that the famous “would you do something if your friend did it” your mom used to say is true.

It’s easy to overeat when you’re out with your friends. You see that they’re eating, you eat as well despite not even being hungry. That also implies to your grandma telling you to eat more because you’re such a big boy. You eat because you want to fit in, avoid disappointing somebody or impress your girl with your eating skills.

How to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger?

If you’re an emotional eater, it doesn’t mean you have to stop eating every time you feel something. Sometimes you may just be hungry. That’s why when you want to deal with your emotional eating problems, you shouldn’t quit eating.

You have to know how to distinguish your physical needs from emotional ones. If you learn the main differences, you’ll be able to quit habits that are wrong for you without harming yourself.

The first main difference is that emotional hunger comes on suddenly after something occurs. If your boss yells at you and you suddenly feel hungry, it’s emotional hunger. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes gradually.

You’re slowly getting that hungry feeling. It’s not sudden, and therefore you don’t have to satisfy it instantly.

The second difference between these two types of hunger is the type of food. When you’re physically hungry, it doesn’t matter what you eat; everything sounds okay. The emotional need is different. It demands specific types of comfort food like pizza or ice-cream.

The difference is also what you’re feeling after the meal. If you were physically hungry, you’d feel a sense of satisfaction and fullness when you finish eating. When it comes to emotional hunger, a full stomach won’t get you pleasure.

You eat more until your mind tells you to stop, and then you feel guilty from overeating. That doesn’t imply when it comes to satisfying your physical hunger.

How to overcome emotional eating?

Now when you know what emotional eating is and what causes it, we can proceed to the second part of the article. How can you overcome emotional eating? It’s essential to know how you can fight back or prevent yourself from comforting yourself with food.

According to specialists at Mayo Clinic there are a few ways to overcome emotional eating.

First of all, find an activity or a hobby that will keep you motivated and occupied. One of the leading causes of emotional eating is boredom and a sense of emptiness. You eat because you don’t know what to do or you just don’t have anything to do.

Find a hobby. Start doing sports, collecting stamps, do anything that may bring joy and a sense of fulfilment in your life. Doing that will help you cope with emotions and prevent you from emotional snacking.

Secondly, don’t tempt yourself. Throw away all the comfort food like chocolates, crisps, etc. you store in your house. Notice that when you want to comfort yourself, you always reach for junk food. It’s all because they contain many calories and sugar or fat.

Your brain makes a mistake and believes junk food is necessary for your survival. It also tastes terrific. That’s why you shouldn’t tempt yourself. If you know that when you’re stressed, you eat a candy bar, throw them all away from your house.

Now that you don’t have any junk food in your house replace it with healthy food. Plan your meals, and don’t snack between them. You need to learn how to control your needs for eating. Emotional hunger is sudden, but it passes quickly, but if you have to eat something, eat a banana instead of a pack of crisps.

The third piece of advice is don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody. Lack of quality, family or social time can be one of the reasons why you turn to food for comfort. If you know that’s the case, try to spend as much as you can among people that make you happy.

But if that doesn’t work, you can always join special groups that are dedicated to people with similar problems. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone or seek advice from other people.

Another good idea would be to keep a food diary. By doing this, you’ll be able to see the pattern of your eating habits. That will help you learn more about them and make it easier to eliminate the ones that originate from certain emotions and situations.

So as you can see, there are plenty of ways you can implement to overcome emotional eating. But if these pieces of advice don’t work, it’s best to contact a specialist. Therapy is the best way to understand why you eat when you’re stressed, sad, anxious, etc.

Conclusion

Emotional eating is a problem for many people in this world, so you’re not alone in this. If you want to change something, you have to learn what makes you seek comfort in food and then try to take steps to prevent yourself from that habit.

Remember that you need to take care of this problem as soon as you can. It will be easier for you to escape the emotional eating cycle when you recognize your symptoms fast and do something about it.

There are certain things you can do yourself, but sometimes it may not be enough. Remember that you shouldn’t be embarrassed about your problem. Reach out to people you love and trust, and they’ll be there for you.

You can also look at pictures of food on your computer instead of eating it. The choice is yours.

About the author Patrick Banks

Patrick is a Berlin-based dating advisor, motivational speaker, a huge fitness and vegan diet enthusiast and the main editor at Wingman Magazine, specialised in men's health. His ultimate goal is to share with men around the world his passion for self-development and to help them to become the greatest version of themselves. He believes a healthy body and successful social interactions are two main keys to happiness.