Emotional Eating – What is it and how can I get a handle on it?
emotional eating

Picture this: You hit the snooze button one too many times, had a last minute project thrown at you at work, and then sat in an hour of traffic (or if you’re luck enough to live a short commute from home – perhaps you’ve spent the afternoon running around after the kids).

Finally home, you breathe a sigh of relief, head into the kitchen, and decide you deserve a snack after the day you’ve had. Maybe you reach for a few crackers, then a bit of chocolate.

Before you know it, you’ve munched your way through the entire kitchen without eating a proper meal. You’re stuffed, ashamed, and wondering what the heck just happened ?!

Sound familiar?

It’s called emotional eating, and in a nutshell, it is eating for any other reason besides actual physical hunger, fuel or nourishment.

 

3 Trademarks of Emotional Eating

  • Binging – usually on high-sugar and carbohydrate-rich comfort foods (i.e. junk food). How many people do you know who reach for avocado and apples when they’re upset?
  • Mindlessly eating – you’re not aware of what or how much you’re eating or how those foods are making your body feel
  • Eating to numb, soothe, please, relax, or reward self, i.e. “I had a bad day and deserve it” kind of thinking. Eating during these times provides temporary relief, but often leaves you feeling worse than where you started!

I can remember many an evening when I was a single mum, just waiting for my daughter to FINALLY go to bed so I could dig a tub of ‘fancy’ ice cream out of the back of the freezer, collapse on the couch and ‘unwind’. I would just eat the soft bits that had started to melt – all that creamy gooey goodness – and often I’d have eaten over half the tub without even realising it.

You see, the trouble with emotional eating is it overrides your body’s natural hunger cycle and can promote things like:
  • weight gain
  • an increase in your risk for inflammation and chronic disease
  • create an unhealthy relationship between you and food
  • lead to more danger types of disordered eating

 

What Triggers Emotional Eating?

Even though it’s called “emotional eating” because people often reach for food to cope with their feelings, there are a lot of other non-hunger reasons that can prompt you to eat.

Some common non-hunger reasons include:
  • Uncomfortable emotions, like anger, guilt, fear, and sadness
  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Need to feel pleasure and/or comfort

For me it was often a mix of all of the above.

 

Six (6) Tips to Help You Get a Handle on Emotional Eating…for good!

If any of those scenarios sound familiar, know that you’re not alone! Emotional eating affects a lot of people at one point or another.

Want to know what you can do to stop emotional eating in its tracks? Here are 6 great tips!
  1. Have a non-food outlet to process uncomfortable feelings
  • Try journaling, exercising, or talking to a trusted friend or counselor
  1. Manage stress
  • Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, and not taking on more than you can realistically handle can help decrease stress levels.
  1. Recognise boredom
  • Call a friend, take a walk, pick up a book, or tackle a DIY project or hobby you’ll enjoy when you know boredom is likely to strike.
  1. Practice self-care
  • Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, manicure, or curl up with a good book – whatever makes you feel good!
  1. Practice mindful eating
  • Avoid distractions at meals. Your focus should be on the food in front of you.
  • Eat slowly, chew, and savour each bite. This helps give your body time to receive the signal from your brain when it’s full.
  • Stop eating when you feel full.
  1. Eat a balanced diet
  • The majority of your diet should be nutrient-dense whole foods.
  • Allow for occasional treats and indulgences so you don’t feel deprived.
  • Include protein, fibre, and healthy fat at each meal to promote satiety.

Another strategy that I use is to dress comfortably.  If I am not feeling so great mentally, I’ll come home and put my comfy pants on.  I have couple of pairs that I love to lounge around in at home – and when I put them on it means it’s time to stop, switch off and relax.

Tuning in to how I am feeling and taking a proactive approach to avoiding emotional eating is something I still practice.  Practicing mindfulness and self care are my go-to’s when life gets tough and I am tempted to bury my emotions with ice cream.

Next time you find yourself standing staring into the pantry or ice cream tub – try tuning in to your feelings and then trying one of the tips above and build your own toolkit of strategies to get you through those moments.

I’d love to hear what you try and what you find works well for you!

 

References

Study: Current Diabetes Reports, 2018 — Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity

Study: Journal of Health Psychology, 2015 — Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating

Healthline: Mindful Eating 101 – A Beginner’s Guide

 

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