When you are an emotional eater, you eat to feed your feelings. Food equals comfort, love, acceptance, a feeling of safety, or emotional release.
That’s why it’s so hard for many emotional eaters to stay on a diet. Despite all the logical reasons to lose weight or eat healthy, that logic is overruled by a far more primal desire to feel better when they are stressed, sad or angry. Here are the signs of emotional eating—to help you understand it, and perhaps take the first step to conquering it.
Emotional eating can be triggered by anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and stressful situations. However, if you have taught yourself to suppress or ignore emotions, you will simply feel…hunger. You have trained your body and your mind to recognize any uncomfortable feeling with the need to eat, rather than the need to relax, reconnect with yourself and others, or to release negative energy.
That’s why one of the first signs of emotional eating is that you will ‘suddenly’ be hungry. Real hunger is gradual, and usually follows a schedule (like breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time). So when you are stressed out over a problem at work, and are dreading a meeting where you’re sure to be scolded by your boss, you may suddenly think, ‘I need to have a snack.’ The food distracts you from the problem at hand and gives you a momentary feeling of pleasure or safety.
Emotional eating is also strongly rooted in cravings—usually food that you associate with comfort and satisfaction. When you’re hungry you will be just as happy with a fat burger or a tuna sandwich on rye. But when it’s emotional eating, you MUST have a burger or nothing at all. You may even go at great lengths to get that burger, driving out of your way or getting up out of bed to finish off the chocolate cake in the refrigerator for a midnight snack. The compulsion to eat is very strong.
Another aspect of emotional eating is that it can be unconscious: you mechanically eat when you are stressed, upset or bored, and you’re actually surprised to discover that you’ve finished off that big bag of potato chips or the whole tub or ice cream.
Emotional eating is also completely unrelated to the feeling of being full. You’ll eat even when you know you’ve just had lunch, and will go on eating even when you start feeling a bit sick. The craving can’t be satisfied because you’re not feeding your stomach, you’re feeding an inner need. The food doesn’t actually make you feel better, but you keep eating anyway, hoping that it will.
Emotional eating is physically destructive and emotionally destructive too. Very often an emotional eating binge will end with a sense of regret, dissatisfaction and remorse.
Photo from uratexblog.com