Emotional Eating: Why It Happens & How to Overcome It

Food can be a source of comfort. But sometimes, this can get out of control. Have you ever found yourself eating when you’re not even hungry? What about snacking when you’re feeling anxious or bored? You could be suffering from emotional eating. While the occasional indulgence can be excused, repeated behaviour can become habit-forming. Discover more about emotional eating and why you need to address this issue as Bloom sheds light on this issue.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a type of coping mechanism where a person uses food to make themselves feel better when they’re in a negative mood. Food can be used as a comfort to soothe sadness, stress, anger or boredom. Unfortunately, those who partake in emotional eating tend to reach for unhealthy food options, like fast food, salty snacks and food packed with a high sugar content. This has an effect on one’s health, causing a person to gain weight, for instance, which could put them at risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Another fact is that emotional eating doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, in some instances, it can make you feel worse. Not only does the emotional eater end up feeling guilty, which affects one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem but it can also aggravate existing emotional or mental problems. Sugar has been linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders because it weakens the body’s ability to deal with stress and causes an imbalance in the brain’s chemicals. Sugar withdrawal symptoms even cause side effects like irritability and fatigue. And so, the emotional eater gets caught in a vicious cycle.

Are you an emotional eater?

This question can be answered by explaining the difference between real, physical hunger and emotional eating. Physical hunger builds up gradually and is the result of an empty stomach. A healthy eater will satisfy their hunger by eating a variety of different foods at set times.

Emotional eating, in contrast, has the following symptoms:

  •  It develops very suddenly There’s an overwhelming sense of urgency that demands immediate satisfaction, like a craving.
  • The emotional eater will crave certain types of comfort food, like sugar or junk food and will go out of their way to source that particular type of food.
  • Emotional eating is characterised by mindless eating. That means you eat in excess, even if you’re not that hungry. It’s not unusual for the emotional eater to consume an entire tub of ice cream or a whole pizza by themselves.
  • The emotional eater isn’t satisfied when they’re full. They’re likely to find other sources of food to eat. They could even make themselves feel ill.
  • Typically, emotional eating often results in feelings of shame, regret or guilt.

Emotional eating is often characterised by unhealthy behaviour or habits. For instance, emotional eaters may eat at unusual times (late at night) or hide food in secret locations so they can eat this later on their own.

The emotional eating cycle: effects of emotional eating

Rewarding yourself with a treat for a job well-done or indulging in a tasty snack after a particularly stressful day at the office isn’t a bad thing. However, if eating food becomes a primary copy mechanism when you’re feeling low, you could get stuck in the habit of emotional eating, and this becomes a vicious cycle. Not only are you not dealing with your emotions in a healthy manner, but you’re also putting yourself at risk for certain diseases or conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

How to stop emotional eating: tips to gain control

The best way to stop emotional eating is by identifying your own personal triggers. Work out things like:

  • What kind of negative emotions make you want to eat?
  • Where do you tend to eat?
  • What kind of food do you crave?
  • What sort of situation makes you want to eat?

5 Causes of emotional eating

  1. Stress. We all experience stress at some point. This can be brought upon by challenges we experience in everyday life, like our personal relationships, work demands or even random experiences, like getting stuck in a traffic jam. When one experiences these challenges, the body produces high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This will, in turn, produce food cravings for food that is high in salt or sugar, or even fried foods.
  1. Boredom. Sometimes, eating gives a person something to do. If you’re all alone in your flat, or if you’re at a function you’re not enjoying very much, eating helps relieve the feeling of emptiness and loneliness. It’s in the moment of eating that you become distracted and involved with what you are doing.
  1. Shutting down emotions. If you’re feeling particularly upset, emotional eating can be an unhealthy way to drown out your emotions. This is, of course, just a temporary fix because the problem will still be there when you’ve finished bingeing.
  1. Enduring childhood habits. If you were rewarded for good behaviour with food, especially food with a low nutritional value when you were young, you could carry this memory and behaviour into adulthood. Not only does emotional eating trigger pleasant nostalgia but it also reinforces the reward mentality.
  1. Social influences and peer pressure. Have you ever discovered that you eat more in a social setting? Get-togethers with friends can be a wonderful pastime, but it can also lead to overeating if you’re not careful.

What to do instead of emotional eating: top tips

If you believe that you might have a negative relationship with food, you can get to grips with this using some of the following self-help tips:

  • Keep a food diary. If you write down everything you eat in a day or a week, you’ll be able to track patterns and habits. This way you can make a conscious decision to make healthier choices.
  • Ask yourself – am I really hungry? Is there a chance that you’re simply feeling bored or anxious? Consider your emotions when reaching for that bag of chips or chocolate bar. Then, try distracting yourself by going for a walk or drinking a glass of water. If the urge to eat passes the chances are high that you were never hungry in the first place.
  • Ask for help. Admitting you have a challenge to overcome and seeking out support is a good way to start your healing journey. Let your friends and family know that you’re trying to make a conscious effort to stop emotional eating and they provide you with the support you need.
  • Set yourself goals. You can start off with small milestones first. Keep track of your accomplishments and celebrate these.
  • Remove temptation. Avoid buying unhealthy foods. This way you can’t grab it when you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions. Choose healthy snacks, like fruit, seeds or nuts when you’re shopping.
  • Choose a healthy alternative. You can still snack between meals but choose the healthy alternative. Instead of sugar, opt for a piece of fruit and instead of salty crisps, try a stick of lean biltong.

Start to exercise. Remember that a workout will produce endorphins that will help you relax and calm down.

Keep yourself protected with health insurance

Bloom recommends living a healthy lifestyle and this means eating a balanced diet. Healthy eating keeps your body and mind in good condition. Not only does it mean your risk of disease or infection is reduced, but it also means your mental state is in a better place for dealing with life’s stressors. Be prepared for health concerns and get the right medical care you need with an affordable health insurance plan. Contact our team for affordable health insurance quotes.

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