The holidays are a time when many people find themselves eating for emotional reasons rather than physical ones. Stress, childhood associations, and celebration can all come together to create an environment where people are eating for reasons other than bodily nourishment.
But this problem is certainly not restricted to holidays; it is a year-round issue for many people, and it can cause or contribute to physical and emotional unhealthiness.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when you consume food even though you aren't physically hungry. People might eat for many reasons, including:
- Associations that developed between food and comfort during childhood.
- To cope with stress, anxiety, anger, loneliness, boredom, or other feelings.
- To reward oneself. This may also have come forward from childhood if food was used in a celebratory fashion or as a reward for good behavior or accomplishments.
- As a social activity. Getting together with friends or family may lead to social pressure to overeat.
Emotional eating can lead to extra weight, feelings of guilt, health problems, and the suppression of a person's development of healthier, more effective coping skills.
How Can You Stop Emotional Eating?
There are several things you will want to work on in order to banish your emotional eating habit for good.
First, you will need to learn the signs of true physical hunger vs. those of emotionally-based cravings. This will take some introspection and require you to be still for a few moments to evaluate your body and mind before eating something. In general, the following is true about hunger:
- Physical hunger begins in the stomach, not as a vague feeling in the mind.
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly while physical hunger is slower to develop.
- A growling stomach and weakness are signs of physical hunger.
- Physical hunger generally does not come with a particular craving. When your body needs food, it is not picky about what type it receives. However, emotional hunger usually requires a specific taste, texture, or smell to be satisfied. If you are particularly wanting cake or chips and veggies just won't work, it is likely that you are experiencing an emotional hunger rather than a physical one.
Next, you will want to learn the triggers for emotional eating that are specific to you. Once you have determined that you are not feeling physical hunger, give yourself some time to identify what else may be causing your craving. While there are some common triggers, don't limit yourself to them when evaluating yourself. Emotional eating can be related to many complex emotions and feelings. You should also assess whether certain times of day or even places trigger your desire to eat. Keep a journal to record what you learn about the feelings and triggers that surround your eating habits, so you can look back and more easily see any patterns that you may otherwise miss. Here are some common triggers that you can begin to think about:
Develop coping strategies other than eating to deal with the triggers you identify. Eating to deal with your triggers has been a learned response in your life. Although it isn't easy, you can relearn different comfort pathways that will work just as well if not better to help you cope with things in a healthier manner. Some of the things you can do include:
- Surrounding yourself with comfortable items that make you feel peaceful and happy. This may include soft clothes, comfortable furniture and décor, and uplifting music. Drink hot tea or take a relaxing bath when you feel like eating due to emotions.
- Find other outlets for dealing with your specific triggers. For example, if you identify anxiety as a trigger for your emotional eating, you can try meditation and deep breathing to cope. If you eat when you are lonely, call a friend to chat or take your dog for a walk.
- Develop a practice of eating mindfully. That means slowing down to evaluate whether your hunger is physical or emotional, then approaching your physical hunger with attention, purpose, and gratefulness. You can learn specific techniques for doing this in this article: "Eating Mindfully."
- If your doctor OKs it, consider a Garcinia cambogia supplement. It can help increase the serotonin levels in your brain, reducing food cravings.
Once you've gotten control of your emotionally-based eating, you will experience the freedom of eating for nutrition and using other coping skills for life's challenges.