Emotional Eating: Why it Happens and How To Stop it

Emotional eating is when you eat to feed a feeling, instead of eating to feed a hungry belly.

While the main function for eating is to provide fuel for survival, it is also an inherently emotional act.

Your very first experience of love and affection in your life is presented through nourishment.

Food energizes the body and provides you with a sense of comfort and peace. Eating provides an emotional inner calm, replacing feelings of insecurity with security and satisfaction, releasing endorphins and dopamine, which is why some people want to eat even if they’re not hungry.

The Trouble with Emotional Eating

Have you ever heard people say, “I could chop off my arm and leg to be skinny, I’d do anything”? That drive, the desperation, the aching desire to lose the weight is there, but yet you still can’t put down the doughnut.

It’s not that you can’t put down the doughnut, it’s that you can’t face the emotion that’s causing you to eat the doughnut.

That emotion is probably dark. It could be a lifetime’s worth of negative thoughts that you have to face. That’s damn hard! And that is why most people struggle so hard to lose weight.

So how do you recognise if you’re eating for hunger or eating to fill a void?

There are very obvious differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger.

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and needs to be satisfied immediately. Physical hunger comes gradually and can usually wait.
  • Emotional eating brings on feelings of guilt, physical hunger doesn’t.
  • If you eat past the point of being full, you’re trying to fill an emotional void. If it’s physical hunger, you stop eating when full.

Drinking Tea

If you find yourself emotionally eating and can’t stop it, try making tea instead.

I know you might think, tea? But tea isn’t comforting. Tea won’t satisfy this aching feeling. Tea won’t numb my pain. I want high fat and lots of sugar so I can chew down on my feelings.

When you find yourself reaching for a snack, take a second. Ask yourself what you’re feeling and choose a tea.  Find a space that’s a way from the kitchen and sit with a journal and your tea. Write down what your feeling. Cry if you need to. Maybe even do some yoga or go for a walk if you’re feeling restless.

The Secret To Weight Loss

You know that big secret to weight loss that people make you spend your life savings on to find out? Working through your emotional baggage is the big secret. But people don’t want to hear that, it’s too hard. They would rather people tell them to just do 100 squats for 100 days and then all your life problems will be solved.

The only thing you need to do to lose weight is mind work. Once you do that you don’t need to think about diet or exercise because it just becomes natural. Food just becomes food. You eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. If you are in tune with your body and you go to grab a food that isn’t good for it, you’re stomach will churn and you’ll instantly want to put it down. You won’t need an app to tell you not to eat it; your body will do that for you. You’ll be free of all the emotional attachments you have to food. No more crying into a tub of ice cream. No more binge eating your feelings. Food will be there to nourish you and that’s it.

But how do I face the emotion?

Below I have outlined my top tips for dealing with emotional eating and facing that demon.

If you find yourself emotionally eating whenever you feel stressed, gently bring awareness to your habits.

Food might be your automatic response to stress, therefore it is important to break that response with another habit.

First become conscious of the source for your emotional upset. Is there a looming deadline? Is work putting you under pressure? Did you have an argument with a friend/ partner/ family member that is still bothering you?

A stroll around the park, calling a friend or a short self-massage is a good way to redirect your focus away from food.

However, it is very important you take time to reflect and deal with the emotional issue. This can greatly reduce your desire to emotionally eat as you are tackling the root cause of the concern.

Ask yourself what triggered you. What foods did you eat and why did you choose them? What would you do differently next time?

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Reevaluate what’s stressing you

If the thing that triggers you the most is the need to be skinny, which leads to low self-esteem and low self worth, question where that thought came from. You didn’t come out of the womb feeling fat or worthless. As a baby you had no desire to look a certain way.

The best way of knowing if you’re over stressing about something that is irrelevant is looking at a baby. Is the baby worried about this thing? No? Then you shouldn’t be either. Babies just care about food, sleep, love, joy, laughter… it’s all they need. It’s all you need!

 Examine your Cravings

The foods you emotionally eat give an insight into what’s going on internally.  Take a look at the qualities of the food you indulge in.

Are you eating sugar so you can feel sweeter, or to boost your energy?

Are spicy foods giving you a kick when your feeling depressed or down?

Do you crave chocolate for more passion or love in your life?

Are you eating nuts to feel more grounded?

Is pasta and bread filling an empty void from grief or loneliness?

If you know you’re not eating for hunger, what emotion does the indulgence soothe or numb?  By bringing your awareness to how the food is making you feel emotionally, you will be able to uncover what your body really craves.

Do you feel guilt or ashamed because of emotional eating?

It might be time to change your perspective around emotional eating. Emotional eating is not a bad thing.

Your body is doing everything it can to calm itself down and it sees food as medicine, a way to soothe you. At the core, this is a very nurturing impulse.

Getting angry with yourself for eating is only going to make you feel worse. Instead find a healthier way to express your feelings. Finding a way to address your emotions rather than masking them with food will help to break the cycle.

What is the purpose of food?

As we know, we eat to replenish energy. However, most foods we eat while emotional eating do the opposite of this.

Refined wheat and sugar have dramatic side effects on the blood and are often the cause of the very same emotions you are trying to supress.

If you do turn to sugar or refined wheat when you are emotional, it is important to recognise and honour that it is for emotional reasons. Bring awareness to how the food is making you feel.

Does it make you feel warm? Loved? Is there something else you can bring into your life to make you feel this way?

Be grateful that you were able to comfort yourself and take time to enjoy the food that is comforting you. Eating food at a rapid pace will lead to stomach discomfort, gas, and bloating, as your stomach struggles to breakdown the chunks of improperly chewed food.

Savour every bite.

Be kind and patient with yourself.

Overcoming emotional eating takes time and can be a long process.

Every time you indulge in an unruly craving, take note of how you feel. Then formulate a strategy and implement this every time a craving strikes.

When it comes to overcoming emotional eating, awareness is the key to success.

Treat each binge as a learning experience that provides key insights into your triggers and emotions.

Article written by features editor Ciara Glover

Check out The Three Secrets for Managing Stress.

For more information on emotional eating click here.

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