Turning to food as relief for pain, anger, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, frustration or stress is what is termed as Emotional Eating. We’ve all been there: finishing an entire jar of cookies while flipping through several channels on television, drowning ourselves with beer after a hard break up or snuggling in bed with a tub of ice-cream and a spoon.
About 40% of people, it’s been observed, tend to eat more when stressed, while about 40% eat less and 20% experience no change in the amount of food they eat when exposed to stress.
Emotional eating can be triggered through circumstances of unemployment, work stress, relationship conflicts, fatigue, and financial pressure. Although we cannot eliminate some of these pressures from our everyday lives, we can choose to view and appreciate food in healthier and more beneficial ways. This is necessary to avoid this symptom of depression and to maintain a good, healthy diet.
CHARACTERISTICS OF EMOTIONAL HUNGER
Emotional hunger happens in the following ways:
- It comes upon you suddenly: As soon as something goes wrong you feel an overwhelming need to find food –particular “comfort food”
- It is located in the mind: A regular physical hunger usually occurs gradually with a growling belly. Emotional hunger develops a craving for food in the mind and as already stated, comes upon you suddenly.
- It leads to mindless eating: Eating emotionally usually happens absent-mindedly. Before you know it you’ve gone through bags or bottles of whatever craving.
- It leads to regret, guilt or shame: When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. Feeling guilty after emotional eating stems from the realization of how unfair you’ve been to your body because of how much food or drink you’ve consumed while the problem still persists.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU ARE AN EMOTIONAL EATER
To know if you are an emotional eater, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does food make me feel safe? Is food like a friend to me?
- When I feel very good about myself, do I choose to reward myself with food all the time?
- When I am stressed or unhappy, do I eat the same amounts of food as when I am hungry or more?
- During or after a bad day, does food make me feel better?
STEPS TO OVERCOMING EMOTIONAL EATING
- Learn to accept your feelings: It’s alright to feel anxious or frustrated or heartbroken sometimes. Those feelings only make you human. Learning to accept them without immediately thinking about finding a source of comfort in food is the first step to overcoming emotional eating.
- Replace the addiction: Instead of rushing from the cookie jar or ice-cream bucket, why not go for something a lot healthier. The following are some quick fix alternatives to replacing the addiction
- Sip black tea: A study in the journal of Psychopharmacology found that subjects who drank black tea experienced a 47% drop in their cortisol levels, the stress hormone that makes you crave food, compared to 27% among the subjects who drank a placebo.
- Massage your feet: If a foot rub would hit the spot better than a snack, try self-message. It can be as simple as sitting down, taking off your shoe and placing your foot over a tennis ball. Rub your feet, one at a time, over the top of the ball until they feel relaxed and soothed. According to the study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, self-massage slows your heart rate and lowers your level of cortisol.
- Try a quick breathing exercise: Slowing down your breathing can trick your body into thinking you are going to sleep, which in turn relaxes your body. Close your eyes. Stare at the blackness of your eyelids. Slowly breathe in and out. Count each time you inhale and exhale. Continue until you lose that craving.
- Set up a healthy home/office environment: Intentionally get rid of the junk and fill your home or office with unprocessed, low-calorie, low fat foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Learn from setbacks. If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health.