October 5, 2009
Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods — when feeling upset, stressed, angry, tired, anxiety, stress, bored, loneliness, poor self-esteem, problems with relationships, or sad instead feelings of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.
Everyone eats for emotional reasons once in a while, but when the habit of using food to deal with emotions happen often, it becomes harder to separate physical hunger from an unrelenting emotional hunger.
Emotional eating takes its toll on the body and causes weight gain. In order to stop emotional eating, you must first admit that there is a problem.
The next step would be to identify what triggers the emotional eating. Here are a few typical triggers:
Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in; arguing; or feelings of inadequacy around other people.
Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety, or loneliness as a way to “fill the void.” People who are uncomfortable with confrontation may deal with frustrations in their marriage with a piece of cake, for example, rather than with open communication. Food can take the focus off of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and a host of other emotions we’d sometimes rather not feel, and is often used for this purpose.
Eating because the opportunity is there. For example, at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food, passing by a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event, etc.
Eating as a result of negative self-worth or making excuses for eating. For example, scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
Eating in response to physical cues. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pain.
When stressed or anxious, many people become “orally fidgety.” Sometimes this leads to nail biting or teeth grinding, and often it leads to eating when not hungry. Many people, out of nervousness or boredom, just munch on chips or drink soda to give their mouths something to do.
Many of us have comforting childhood memories that revolve around food. Whether your parents used to reward you with sweets, fix your boo-boos with an ice cream cone, or make your favorite meal (or take you out to one) to celebrate your successes, you’d probably be in the vast minority if you didn’t develop some emotionally-based attachments to food while growing up. When in times of stress, few things can be as powerfully comforting or rewarding as your favorite food. Because many people don’t develop more effective coping strategies, this type of emotional eating is very common: people eat to celebrate, eat to feel better, eat to deal with the stress of being overweight.
To identify what triggers excessive eating in you, keep a food diary that records what and when you eat as well as what stressors, thoughts, or emotions you identify as you eat. You should begin to identify patterns to your excessive eating fairly quickly.
When emotional hunger rumbles, one of its distinguishing characteristics is that you’re focused on a particular food, which is likely a comfort food. Comfort foods are foods a person eats to obtain or maintain a feeling. Comfort foods are often wrongly associated with negative moods, and indeed, people often consume them when they’re down or depressed, but interestingly enough, comfort foods are also consumed to maintain good moods.
Ice cream is first on the comfort food list. After ice cream, comfort foods break down by sex: For women it’s chocolate and cookies; for men it’s pizza, steak, and casserole.
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