Signs of Emotional Eating

If you find yourself munching instead of crying or chomping when you should be cleaning the kitchen, you may have developed the habit of emotional eating as a way to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Emotional eating is a habit, a learned response to emotional triggers that can be unlearned.

What exactly is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is the habit of eating or not eating in response to an emotional trigger, rather than eating only when hungry or for pleasure. Emotional eaters feel at the mercy of the pantry; they feel out of control of their eating habits. Not all emotional eaters are overweight; in fact some emotional eaters respond to certain cues by not eating. Likewise, not all emotional triggers are negative emotions. Some emotional eaters respond to positive emotions with the desire to celebrate through overeating or not eating at all. Emotional eating is considered an unhealthy habit since it can lead to obesity or malnutrition, depending on the severity of the habit and the specific relationship of food to emotions.

Signs of emotional eating
You may be an emotional overeater or eater if you find yourself doing the following things:

  • Eating more than you need to eat in response to stress, boredom, grief or unhappiness
  • Refusing to eat after hearing bad news
  • Grazing throughout the day on unhealthy kinds of foods or unhealthy amounts of food when you experience a particular emotion
  • Craving a particular food in reaction to a specific event or mood
  • Eating until you are overly full when celebrating
  • Rewarding yourself with food when you are tired, overworked, or went out of your way to do extra
  • Trying to quell anxiety by eating until you are stuffed

Why do some people overeat and some people starve themselves in response to the same emotional triggers?
How you respond to emotional issues is an individual as your preferences and likes and dislikes. Every person is emotionally unique, and your ways of coping with stress, discomfort, pain, loss, joy and accomplishment is different than every other person.  When your responses to emotions lead to unhealthy eating habits, you need to find ways to reform your coping strategies.

Tips for overcoming emotional eating
Your goal is to establish a healthy relationship with food, where eating is emotionally linked to nourishing your body and enjoying that nourishment without overindulging or punishing your body by withholding needed calories and nutrients. The following are suggestions for overcoming emotional eating habits:

  • Keep a food diary. If you suspect you have emotional eating issues, start keeping a food diary. Write down everything you eat and how you were feeling emotionally when you ate those items. Make notes as to if you overate or if you skipped meals and how you felt before and afterwards. Did you feel guilty? Did you feel uncomfortably stuffed?
  • Identify emotional eating triggers. Try to determine what feelings are triggering your unhealthy eating habits. Do you crave salty foods when you are stressed out? Do you indulge in fatty or sugary foods when you feel the need to celebrate an accomplishment? Do you reward yourself with a large meal when you've worked hard for something? Are you unable to eat when you are sad? Do you eat too much ice cream when you are angry? Look for patterns.
  • Develop alternative strategies to overcome emotional eating. Once you identify what emotional triggers result in unhealthy eating patterns, proactively decide to handle those emotions in a healthier manner. Possible alternative strategies can include drinking a cup of tea, breathing slowly with meditation, working out at a gym, calling a friend or writing out problems in a journal.

What should you do if you can't beat emotional eating on your own?
ome people can't overcome emotional eating on their own. If you feel like your eating habits are out of control, consider joining a support group, going to your doctor for help, or enlisting the help of a trusted friend or relative. 

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