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What is emotional eating and how can it be managed?

What is emotional eating and how can it be managed?

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Do you eat to feel better or relieve stress? If you have answered yes to this question then it is possible you are an emotional eater.

To be sure, take a minute and answer the following questions:

Are you an emotional eater?

n Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
n Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
n Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
n Do you reward yourself with food?
n Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
n Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?
n Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?


What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating (or stress eating) is the reason why so many diets fail. We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. Many of us also use food to make ourselves feel better—eating to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom. You might reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza or get KFC if you’re bored or lonely, or after a stressful day at work/school.

Occasionally using food as a pick-me-up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed. Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.

No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change. You can find healthier ways to deal with your emotions, learn to eat mindfully instead of mindlessly, regain control of your weight, and finally put a stop to emotional eating.

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).

Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.

Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.

Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or an emptiness in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.

Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.

Continued next week

What is emotional eating and how can it be managed?

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