Are You an Emotional Eater?
If you’ve ever made room for dessert even though you’re already stuffed, or dived into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, you’ve experienced emotional eating.
Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better or eating to fill emotional needs, rather than because you a genuinely hungry. Emotional eaters typically turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward, and most feel powerless over their food cravings.
Before I took control of my health around eight years ago, eating was my primary emotional coping mechanism. Whenever I felt upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted or bored, my impulse was to open the fridge. I became stuck in an unhealthy cycle where my feelings and problems never actually got addressed. I speak from experience when I tell you that emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but ultimately you’re left feeling guilty for messing up or angry for not having more willpower.
Does this feel familiar? Firstly, that is okay. Don’t feel ashamed or alone, because you truly are not.
The good news is that there are techniques that you can learn that bring awareness to the situation and, with the right support, you CAN change the emotional habits that have sabotaged your diet in the past. I now use the techniques that allowed me to transform my health all those years ago to help my clients achieve their health goals – and now you can use them too!
Strategy 1: Understanding Emotional vs. Physical Hunger
Emotional hunger is a powerful sensation which can easily be mistaken for physical hunger. However, by looking out for these clues you can easily learn to tell the two apart!
Immediate desires for quick, sweet or fatty foods that provide an instant rush. You feel that you NEED a tub of ice cream or a tube of Pringles and simply nothing else will do. Usually you will end up scoffing the whole lot without taking the time to be present and enjoy it.
We all experience physical hunger in different ways. Common signs are a rumbling tummy, nausea, lack of focus, headaches and more. Either way, healthy options are typically more appealing.
- Physical hunger comes on gradually whilst emotional hunger hits hard and fast and demands instant gratification.
- 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 only requires you to eat until your stomach is two thirds full.
- Emotional hunger is felt as a craving that you can’t get out of your head rather than a physical growling in your belly.
Strategy number 2: Identify Your Emotional Eating Triggers
Emotional eating is usually triggered by unpleasant feelings but positive emotions can also play a part. Do you reward yourself for achieving your goals with food? Our triggers are individual so it’s important that you learn to identify yours. Here are some of the most common emotional eating triggers that I see in my clinic:
- Uncomfortable Emotions – Anger, sadness, fear, loneliness and shame can all be numbed with food for a short space of time.
- Stress – The stress hormone cortisol triggers cravings for comfort foods which give us a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.
- Emptiness – If we have underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with our lives then food can provide temporary distraction.
- Childhood Habits – Emotionally based childhood eating habits often carry over into adulthood. If you were given sweets when you were feeling sad or rewarded for good behaviour with pizza then you are far more likely to be triggered by these events as an adult.
Strategy 3: Alternative Fulfilment
This third strategy is absolutely essential if you want to truly break the cycle of emotional eating. Most diets fail because they offer nutritional advice only as if the only thing keeping you from eating well is knowledge. Logical nutritional advice only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. A key part of the work I do with my weight loss clients is helping them to find alternatives to food that they can turn to for emotional fulfilment.
Discover how to find alternatives to emotional eating here.
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