I don’t know if I could cover everything in this article, as the topic of emotional eating is huge. In a few simple words, emotional eating is a way to cope with different emotions and feelings. We, humans, are created to experience feelings and emotions. Every emotion we experience is due to the way we are programmed and the way we perceive the world around us.
Are you an emotional eater?
You can check if you are an emotional eater with the following questions:
- Do you eat more when you are feeling stressed?
- Do you eat when you are not hungry?
- Does food calm you down?
- Do you overeat often?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Do you feel like you are out of control around food?
When emotions become too strong or unpleasant, many people fail or do not know how to cope with them (I am one bright example). That’s why they find different mechanisms to help themselves. Such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and of course emotional eating.
Filling emotional gaps
When something bad happens, such as a loss of a loved one, a scandal with a friend, family problems, or just a bad day at work, we experience negative emotions that are difficult to experience. We feel pain and emptiness. It can be a lack of love, understanding, happiness, success. In most cases, this is caused by the unrealized expectations we have. And to fill this gap, we very often use food.
The truth, however, is that food cannot really fill this gap or erase emotion. It may temporarily bring pleasure and joy, but the true feelings that triggered emotional eating will still be there.
Hormones are involved again
I have already talked several times in this blog about the importance of hormones – serotonin and dopamine. We can say that this is the scientific explanation for emotional eating. Serotonin is the hormone of happiness. Plus, it makes us feel good and makes you smile, it also takes care of various other important processes in our body that are necessary to function properly. Well, it is so important and I mention it so often that probably I have to write a separate post about it.
So in the absence of serotonin, we crave sweets. It is no coincidence that when we are sad we need chocolate. And also, during PMS women often have a drop in serotonin, which explains the appetite for sweets in „those“ days of the month. Everything is so complex, but most important thing is to know how to recognize emotional eating so you can prevent it.
First, we must know ourselves. To be aware of all our emotions and how we react, I highly recommend meditation. This is a great way to train your mind. You can read more about it here.
Physical or emotional hunger
Another important thing is to learn the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Physical hunger comes gradually, while emotional hunger strikes sharply and suddenly. In the case of physical hunger, you feel your belly rumbling, and in the case of emotional hunger, you rather want to satisfy your taste buds. When you eat and satisfy your physical hunger, you do not feel the need to continue eating, but with emotional eating, you don’t feel satisfied once you are full. Often, you need to use your willpower to stop eating. Emotional hunger makes you crave „comfort“ foods, while physical hunger makes even the vegetables attractive. Also, after emotional eating, we usually feel guilty and ashamed about all the calories consumed.
Now let’s look at the most common emotions that trigger emotional eating
These are anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and shame. Most people don’t know how to cope with them, that is why they chose to avoid them and silence them with food. But we are humans. And we have to allow ourselves to feel those emotions. Even the unpleasant ones.
Boredom – enemy number one
Not only that you are bored, but the more you do nothing, the more you have no desire to change it. And it becomes such a bad cycle, where your only entertainment is food. Although food can bring you temporary joy, it will not solve your problem. Nobody can, except you. Get up from the couch and get out. With friends or alone for a walk in the park. Or grab a book, a movie, try a new sport or activity.
Yes, good emotions can also be a reason for emotional eating. But in the end, we are breastfed with that. From an early age, we are taught to celebrate victories with chocolate, good grades with ice cream, and birthdays with cake. And even today every celebration is associated with a feast. It has been encoded in us to eat when we feel good. But we should be aware of these things and to learn to eat mindfully, even on special occasions.
I don’t want to be misunderstood, so I’ll say it directly: emotions are a wonderful thing. No matter what they are – good or bad, they make us feel alive. They help us to preserve ourselves, they help us to feel life in all its beauty. That is why we should not be afraid of them, on the contrary, we should embrace and enjoy them. The better we know them and the more aware we are, the less we will need a coping mechanism like emotional eating.