We no longer eat solely to fuel our bodies.
The days of eating for survival are gone, and food has taken on a whole new meaning. We’re in the comfort food age.
Our emotions and eating habits are often as intertwined and twisted as that spare forgotten pair of headphones in the bottom of your bag. We turn to food for comfort in response to emotional triggers, with complete disregard to actual hunger.
Unfortunately, often we turn to a lot of food, and we’re certainly not comforting ourselves with carrots or celery sticks.
What is an Emotional Eater?
If you come home at the end of a stressful day and the first thing you do is open up the junk cupboard and start mindlessly munching on crisps, you’re an emotional eater.
If you’re fighting with your significant other, and, huddled on the couch in your pyjamas, a pile of used tissues beside you, you go through an entire tub of ice cream, you’re an emotional eater.
If you get a long-awaited promotion at work and, feeling elated, take yourself out for an indulgent dinner (topped off with a sinful dessert), you’re an emotional eater.
Most likely, you can’t help it. We emotionally eat out of habit, sometimes without even realising we’re doing it. We instinctively respond to stressors by reaching for the snack cupboard.
We’re aware that it’s not rational or ideal to be shovelling in junk just because our emotions are swinging, but it feels like we can’t stop.
Most of Us Are Guilty
Emotional eating is common. In fact, it’s very common, especially with women. And it’s not surprising – we’re primed for emotional eating from a very young age when our parents give us a lollipop for behaving well or an ice cream cone for getting a good grade in school.
The food and beverage industry hammer it in hard with their advertisements. They start targeting us as kids with commercials that equate junk food with happiness, adventure, and love – anything positive. From an early age, our emotions are tied to food.
As adults, we mimic the habit of rewarding ourselves with food, whether it’s in response to something positive or negative.
When turning to food for comfort we generally choose high-fat, high sugar junk food which give us brief hit of pleasure.
Instead of addressing emotions, which at times are unpleasant, we get the short-term relief and happiness that food brings. But that’s exactly the problem. It’s short term.
The Vicious Cycle
While the release of serotonin may make you feel better for a short period of time, that mild high will quickly fade.
If you turned to food for comfort, the feelings that led you to open the fridge door will still be there when you shut it. You most likely will actually feel even worse after you do.
Emotional eating has nothing to do with physiological hunger. When you’re munching on your fourth or fifth consecutive biscuit at the end of a rough day, it’s certainly not because your body needs energy.
And you may not stop at the fifth one either. Emotional eating leads to overeating and overeating leads to weight gain. You’ll feel guilty for consuming so many calories and for having no control over your actions or your willpower. Your shame will often drive you to eat even more.
Alternatively, you’ll put yourself on a short-term deprivation diet to make up for your mistake. Your deprivation diet will end in a binge. It’s a completely vicious cycle that leads to terrible eating habits, excess fat, and lots and lots of sadness.
Some of us are mild emotional eaters; once in a while, an emotionally traumatic event will drive us to some excess snacking.
Some of us are severe emotional eaters; mild stressors are enough to throw us into an emotional eating frenzy. The problem is that when you’re an emotional eater of any kind, it doesn’t take much to push you from mild to severe.
The biggest favour that you can do yourself in terms of body composition and peace of mind is to cut the ties between your emotions and your eating patterns.
Modern society and media have already ingrained unhealthy body image issues deep inside us, leaving many of us teetering on the brink of an eating disorder. Don’t help shift the scales in the wrong direction.
How to Stop Emotional Eating
1. Eat only when you’re hungry:
If emotional eating is eating in response to a trigger other than hunger, train yourself to eat only when you’re hungry. Yes…it’s much easier said than done. But before you open your fridge door, ask yourself why you’re reaching for food. Is your stomach grumbling, or is there something else driving you? Stop a moment and make yourself conscious of your motivation.
2. Stick to your plan:
Meal prep can be very helpful in overcoming emotional eating habits. Prepare your food in advance and set it aside. Be sure to stick to what you’ve prepped and boxed.
3. Find alternative sources of pleasure:
Find things that make you happy other than food. It could be taking a long bath, going for a run, lifting weights, listening to an interesting podcast, or painting.
When you have a rough day and would normally find comfort in food, stop yourself. Comfort yourself with something else, and eventually, it will become a habit.
4. Guzzle water:
If you’re aware that your cravings aren’t due to hunger, but still can’t seem to shake them, drink water until you feel like you’re ready to burst. If consuming anything else will cause you physical discomfort, it might deter the emotional eating.
5. Hire a fitness coach:
If emotional eating has become a serious problem, enlist the help of a professional. The guidance and support of a knowledgeable trainer who can help you implement healthy eating habits makes a huge difference. The element of accountability doesn’t hurt either.
Emotional eating perpetuates what might be a lifelong unhealthy relationship with food. Try these tips to start turning that relationship around.