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Emotional Eating

When You Feed Your Emotions…Not Your Stomach!


From the moment a baby is born and his mother holds him close to nurse him, an emotional connection between being fed and being loved is created. This relationship gets reinforced every time parents use a sweet treat to comfort their sad child and dentists offer a candy bar to their little patients in pain. Year after year, the child grows into an adult who is brought up on the idea that any void, any emotion can be “fed”.

Driven by our Epicurean impulses, urged by our yawning belief that treats are mandatory; we have all, at times, experienced eating for reasons other than hunger. Whether to celebrate a success, reward ourselves or just as a pick-me up for our stress, fear, boredom or loneliness; food might serve for something bigger than just easing our physical hunger.

But when this happens often or when food becomes the only mechanism a person uses to manage his emotions; then there’s a problem…this problem is called: Emotional Eating.

The physiological trigger for emotional eating:
Although most of the incentive behind emotional eating is acquired; the natural physiological chemistry explains the comfort the body finds in certain foods.
First, when stress is chronic, as it is often in our hectic modern lives, it leads to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings to salty, sweet and high fat foods. On the other hand, certain foods –especially those high in carbohydrates- increase serotonin release; the “feel-good” neurotransmitter responsible for mood upturn.

First thing you need to do to overcome emotional eating is recognizing it…
1- Emotional eating comes out suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually
2- You crave a specific food unlike when you’re physically hungry when you’re open to options.
3- You don’t stop eating when you’re full
4- Emotional eating will leave behind a feeling of guilt, unlike physical hunger

Dieting is not the answer:
Diets are not the answer. If you go for fad diets that leave your body starved for eating, you may be more likely to give in to your emotional eating. It’s a vicious cycle where your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself for getting off your weight loss track; you feel bad and you overeat again. Breaking the cycle will start by putting your emotional eating in control!
How to cope with your emotional eating?
Become your own therapist
Self-talk is the best talk. Be indulgent and patient with the emotional eater inside you. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in the craving; Remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait…and to give in to your craving moderately. Forgive yourself if you overeat, learn from your mistakes and start fresh again and again…

Keep a food journal
Jot down when and what you eat and score how hungry you feel when you ate it. This way you can track “if” and “when” you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Describe how you were feeling before and after eating, what or who was on your mind. Put a percentage for the food you ate out of physiological hunger and out of emotional hunger.

Fill the emotional void
If it’s the stress that is pushing you to overeat, try stress management techniques like yoga, meditation and relaxation or even talk to a friend. If it’s boredom, try to keep yourself busy with other enjoyable activities like painting or dancing…find a new hobby! Make exercise a daily routine and get 8 hours of sleep.

When to seek professional advice?
If you’ve tried self-help options but you still can’t get control of your emotional eating; consider therapy with a professional mental health provider.
Therapy will help you understand the motivation behind your emotional eating and help you learn new coping skills.

WRITER: Christelle Abi Rached

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