If you’ve ever had a particularly hard day and found yourself digging into a tub of ice-cream with no sense of self-control, you may already be familiar with the term emotional eating. The term is generally used to describe eating as a form of comfort, particularly during stressful periods.
While occasionally treating yourself to something not-so-healthy isn’t going to derail all of your hard work, emotional eating can cause problems if you are regularly eating too much of the wrong foods. I also think that relying on food as a source of comfort can lead to an unhealthy mental relationship with food.
How do you tell if you're an emotional eater?
Today, I’m focusing on the signs that you might be an emotional eater and what you can do to manage these situations.
You eat when you’re under pressure
The stress of an upcoming assignment or a big presentation might have you running to the fridge for all the wrong reasons. Stress eating is increasingly common in our busy lives, and it is easy to see why. High levels of stress can increase the production of cortisol in our bodies, which often leads to us craving foods rich in salt, sugar or fat. Unfortunately, these foods usually offer little nutritional benefit, and while they might make you feel better in the short-term, they can also leave you feeling worse afterwards. The other problem is eating is unlikely to help relieve the stress you’re feeling. Instead, try going for a brisk walk to burn off some of that nervous energy and clear your head!
The hunger comes on really quickly
Your body is incredibly good at its job, so trust your stomach to let you know when it's time to eat. Physical hunger doesn’t always come on suddenly. Instead, it’s more likely you’ll notice you have trouble concentrating, or your stomach may gurgle and feel empty. An emotional hunger can feel much different — appearing out of nowhere and making you feel ravenous. Learning the difference between the two can help you avoid unnecessary snacking or overeating.
You crave something specific
There are some days when you feel like the only thing that is going to satisfy you is a big slice of cheesy pizza. If you are craving a particular food, there is a good chance it’s because you’re looking for the rush it provides. The desire for that rush might be another indicator that something is going on in the bigger picture, but there are ways to avoid binging on high fat and high sugar foods.
When the craving hits, take a few minutes to think about how you feel and what’s going on in that moment that makes you want to eat that particular food. Sometimes giving yourself a minute or two means the craving has time to pass. If that doesn’t work, try replacing the food you are craving with something of similar texture or a healthier version. For example, instead of eating a huge bowl of ice cream, substitute with some nice cream. Trade a bag of potato chips for some toasted pita chips.
You reach for comfort foods after a rough day
Eating is often used as a distraction or as a way to take our minds off a challenge we’re facing. When we’re kids, we’re often given food as a reward or to soothe us when something bad happens and, unfortunately, these habits can quite easily carry on into adult life. Just as stress eating doesn’t accomplish anything, relying on food for comfort is not a good idea either. Instead, try finding a more positive outlet that doesn’t revolve around food or eating. This might be going for a tough workout or picking up the phone and chatting with a friend.
You fall prey to unawareness eating
Food can be used as a way to connect with people too. That can be the reason why you find yourself snacking on biscuits and dip during a catch-up with friends, even if you’re not hungry.
Unawareness eating also applies to those days you reach for a cookie and before you know it a whole box has disappeared! Eating because you are bored or because the food is in front of you can both be forms of emotional eating as well. Boredom eating is tough to stay on top of. Just like other forms of emotional eating, keep an eye on your triggers. Trying reaching for healthier snacks such as almonds or walnuts, or portion out the food so that you don’t eat more than you intend to.
Emotional eating is something that we’re all going to face at one point or another, but it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally give in to a craving. It’s a reaction to what is going on in your life, so understanding and identifying when it happens can help you work through emotions in a more healthy way.
Love, Kayla xx