I often hear this from my nutrition counseling clients, especially women. Emotional eating is using food as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Challenges of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your healthy lifestyle efforts. These triggers might include relationship conflicts, work stress, fatigue, financial pressures, or health problems.
Why do we eat when we feel emotional?
Rather than expressing emotions, we sometimes stuff them down with food, which our bodies translate as “comfort” and “fulfillment” at times that we may not feel so comfortable and fulfilled. Often people don't even truly know what they feel, because they've buried their feelings so deeply within.
Aside from providing great pleasure and the nutrients and energy your body needs to function; food also has a powerful influence on appetite and moods. Research shows that food and lifestyle patterns affect powerful mood-modifying brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. When we turn to food to soothe ourselves, our brain chemistry actually alters and we feel better (temporarily).
Food can also serve as a distraction. If you're worried about something, hurting or stewing over a conflict, you may focus on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation. Whatever emotions drive you to overeat, the end result is often the same. The undesired emotions return, and you likely then bear the additional burden of guilt or shame after overeating. This practice can lead to an unhealthy cycle — your emotions trigger you to overeat, you beat yourself up for eating, you feel bad and then you overeat again.
How to cope
When we neglect ourselves, sometimes the only way we take a break is by mindlessly snacking from the fridge. Is your hunger physical or emotional? An interesting thing about emotions is they tend to come and go. If you ate a solid meal recently and don't have a rumbling stomach or other signs of physical hunger, you're probably not hungry, so give the craving some time to pass. Finding alternative ways to soothe yourself can be very helpful for overcoming emotional eating tendencies. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
What are your emotional cravings communicating to you? It could be that a sugar craving is telling you that you need more sweetness or joy in your life. To increase joy, plan for an activity you enjoy for 30 minutes a day - taking a walk in the park, reading a good book, getting a manicure, or treating yourself to a foot massage. Keep your commitment to do this regularly for yourself- you deserve good self-care! When you begin to give yourself permission to have some joy in your life, you won't be on the hunt for sweet foods to do the trick!
If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and move on. Rather than judging yourself for being human (not helpful!), look at the experience as a detective would, invite curious neutral inquiry, and try to make a plan for navigating negative emotions in the future. Always focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that will lead to better health. Self-compassion is the ultimate form of self-care.
What strategies are helpful for you to overcome emotional eating? Please share your wonderful tools with other readers who may be struggling. Thanks for reading and sharing.
To more sweet life experiences,