What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is a coping mechanism that allows people to temporarily soothe emotional pain or stress. For emotional eaters, food provides a temporary relief and distraction from negative feelings or experiences.
Every now and again, treating yourself to your favourite meal after a bad day or over indulging in high calorie foods whilst celebrating a special occasion is to be expected and finding small comforts in food is a wholly natural and wonderful thing.
However, it is important to remember that what we give to our bodies, we get back in terms of our energy, health and wellness. When you are making poor diet choices on a consistent basis, particularly as a means to mask or ease emotional distress, the long term effects can be incredibly damaging to our overall physical and emotional health.
Emotionally speaking, the act of eating manifests itself as a method of suppressing our immediate sadness. Whatever the root cause may be, emotional eating is a vicious cycle that can become a daily habit if we are not careful.
We feel sad ⇒ We eat to feel better ⇒ We feel guilty ⇒ We repeat
Are you an emotional eater?
How can we determine whether our relationship with food is more than fulfilling our basic human hunger needs? There are key tell-tale signs that you or someone that you know is eating to evade emotional concerns.
- Do you use food as a reward? For an emotional eater, food is often used as a gateway to attaining comfort, stress relief or as a reward for a job well done. Whether you are celebrating or commiserating, food is likely to be the answer.
- Do you lack a food routine? Are you eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, at regular times of the day on a consistent basis? If the answer is no, consider your relationship to food and why you lack a standard routine. Also consider whether or not you are highly motivated to eat when you are experiencing low mood or negative situations.
- Have you experienced weight gain? Are you unhappy with your weight? Emotional eaters often find that they have piled on the pounds due to eating during times of distress. Eating your feelings comes at a cost and it is likely to be your waist line.
- Do you suffer from a lack of control? Be it extra-large portion sizes, heavy snacking or an inability to resist the fat and sugar cravings, emotional eaters often lack the capacity to say no. This inability to harbour control over your diet is often responsive to an inability to control the day to day stresses of life. It can also be an act of self-sabotage, whereby the eater lacks confidence, self-belief or purpose to take charge and make healthy informed choices.
What can you do?
It is of no surprise that the foods emotional eaters reach for, are normally of the indulgent, calorific and unhealthy variety. Such food choices may well provide you with momentary pleasure and distraction of life’s difficulties. However, it is more than likely going to make you feel worse in the long run, not only emotionally speaking, but physically as well. In essence, we are at war with ourselves when we regularly give in to these bad habits. In order to tackle emotional eating, there are a number of important actions that you can take.
- Identify what triggers you: Have you ever considered whether there are specific places, people, experiences or situations that have triggered you into emotional eating? It may prove very helpful to begin writing your daily food intake in a food diary. By recording what and when you are eating, you can begin to illuminate why you are eating your feelings.
- Learn to effectively fight the cravings: Becoming enlightened and aware of why you are emotionally eating is only half of the battle. The second half, is about unearthing the willpower within to combat your cravings. Before wandering to the kitchen and opening the fridge door, take pause to consider whether or not you are physically hungry. Remember, your craving often represents what you want. It is not necessarily what you need. Differentiating between what you want and what you need, is a vital step in confronting the emotional problems you are attempting to conceal.
- Find healthy alternatives: Talking therapies, exercise, fruit and vegetables are all avenues of help at your disposal. Remember that taking optimum care of yourself during times of darkness is an act of self-love. Emotional eating is a clear cut sign of self-neglect. Whatever the reason may be, realising that you are strong enough to not only confront, but handle your turmoil without the additional food will absolve your emotional eating for good.
Take charge of your health
Finding a balanced and positive relationship with food is a life long journey. If you find that you are struggling, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or seek therapeutic support. Essentially, food should not be used to fulfil our emotional needs. Food is not a healthy coping strategy for stress, anger, shame, guilt, anxiety or depression. Prioritising our emotional and physical well-being is something that each of us have a responsibility to achieve. We all deserve to believe in our inner power to overcome any challenge that lands at our feet. Learning to accept feelings of lowness is the first step. We will all feel sad, we will all face distress at some point in our lives. Cultivating a healthy, nutritional diet regardless of how we feel, is a major way in which we can live the best and healthiest life we possibly can.
Wishing you happiness and good mental health,
News on Sunday – My Weekly Advice Column
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