Learning to identify and avoid emotional eating
Emotional eating is when you eat to fulfill an emotional need, rather than eating because you are hungry. You might be eating because you feel sad or lonely and you want some comforting foods. You might also be eating because you feel happy and want to reward yourself. Emotional eating is not necessarily a bad thing when done in moderation. Most people eat for emotional reasons on occasion. Emotional eating becomes a problem when you can’t control it.
Here is a good chart showing the difference between emotional eating and eating out of physical hunger:
Emotional Hunger VS Physical Hunger
|Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.||Physical hunger comes on gradually.|
|Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly.||Physical hunger can wait.|
|Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods.||Physical hunger is open to options–lots of things sound good.|
|Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.||Physical hunger stops when you’re full.|
|Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame.||Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.|
How to help with emotional eating
The first step is to identify your emotional triggers. Some common reasons for emotional eating include stress, negative feelings, feelings of emptiness, boredom, learned habits from childhood, and social influences (like families that overeat together). The best way to look for your own patterns is to write down when you are eating for emotional reasons. Write down what you were feeling at the time, what you craved, what you ate, how you felt while eating and after eating. After doing this for a week or two you can look for patterns.
Once you’ve identified your patterns, you can start to be more mindful about your emotional eating and work on changing your behaviors. When you realize that you are feeling like you want to eat for emotional reasons the first thing to do is pause and think about what you want to eat and why. Think about how you would feel after eating what you are craving. Next, find another way of dealing with that emotion. You may consider exercising, going for a walk, dancing, talking to a friend, reading, drawing a picture, writing, meditating, or doing some yoga poses. The list is endless but you need to find things that work for YOU.
One reason people struggle with emotional eating is that they are uncomfortable with their negative feelings. When you learn to accept your negative feelings, you will no longer feel the need to fight your feelings with food.
The last thing, which I think may be the most important thing, is to be kind and forgiving to yourself. We all mess up and eat things we know we shouldn’t. When this happens, forgive yourself and move on. Try to do better next time but don’t beat yourself up over it.
We are going to be talking about emotional eating at my Emotional Fitness group on Friday Nov 14 at 10am and Sat Nov 15th at 9am. Knowing that you are not alone with this struggle can also be very helpful. I hope to see you there!
Ann Noble, MA, LPC, ATR
If you would like more information on classes at Fit Chick Express, check us out at www.fitchickexpress.com