What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is best described as eating to suppress or soften negative emotions. If you are overweight, chances are you are emotionally eating! Often emotional eating is associated with binge eating on calorie rich foods, which is why it has commonly become synonymous with weight gain. The key is to identify your triggers so it can be controlled and then eliminated. Emotional eating has the potential to completely control your eating habits, making you feel helpless to lose any weight. However by following some simple steps you can go a long way towards eradicating emotional eating and tackle weight loss head on!
Emotional eating can be triggered by any form of negative emotion such as stress, anxiety, boredom, anger, loneliness or sadness. We all feel these emotions however it becomes important to start recognising when these emotions are leading you to over eat.
Why do people emotionally eat?
The reason for emotional eating is pretty simple. It makes us feel better, temporarily at least. A recent study published in Nature Oct07, found that our brain releases a key signaling hormone associated with pleasure when our stomach becomes full. This study was the first physiological demonstration that pleasure circuits are a pivotal factor in driving eating habits. But in reality this only confirms what we already know. Eating, particularly high calorie foods, makes us feel good! So now emotional eating makes more sense, it's simply using the pleasure of eating to offset negative emotions.
Identifying emotional eating
The most important step in controlling emotional eating is to clearly identify it when you go to eat. You need to distinguish between physiological hunger, that is when your body actually wants food, and emotional hunger, which is simply wanting food to elevate mood. Actual hunger can be identified by a slight churning feeling in the stomach. Emotional hunger may also mask itself this way, however it comes on as cravings and usually only lasts a few minutes. So a good way to identify genuine hunger is to wait a few minutes and see if your craving is still present.
Emotional Eating Action Plan
Once you have identified you have a tendency for emotional eating, it is important to establish an action plan. There are two basic ways to combat emotional eating: distract yourself with another pleasurable experience or eat something healthy. Some good distractions from emotional eating include: calling a friend, taking a bath, going for a run, knitting, attempt a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, just try and do anything you find fun that will take you mind off eating. Write a list of 5 to 10 things that might work for you and then try them all to see the most effective. The other approach is to have a healthy alternative for when you do emotionally eat. Given the preferred food when emotionally eating is usually always calorie rich you need to limit these types of temping foods in the fridge and pantry. Try instead to preempt your cravings and prepare some healthy low calorie snacks that you know you like. That way if you do indulge in some binge eating it wont be that bad for you.
Emotional Eating Success
But remember not to be too hard on yourself if you do slip up. The most important thing is that you recognise that you did emotionally eat and then simply start fresh again the next day or from that time forward. Emotional eating affects nearly all overweight people and there is not set way for success. So keep changing your action plan if it's not working. Don't lose sight of the fact that emotional eating is just a craving and as such you need to either distract yourself or find a healthy alternative. Once you do develop a successful action plan the results will speak for themselves. By controlling emotional eating you will be in control of yourself again and well on the way to any weight loss goals.