We, humans, are emotional beings.
When we are feeling happy, we laugh, dance, rejoice and celebrate with food. However, when we are feeling low, we can withdraw, become hunched up and sometimes engage in self-sabotaging behaviours. Emotional eating is one such behaviour.
To put it simply, emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger. It is to satisfy feelings of boredom, frustration, worry or even lack of fulfilment.
Emotional eating may temporarily satisfy the feeling but creates long-term pain. This is never good for you, especially if you are trying to lose those additional kilos.
One of the things about emotional hunger is that it causes the person to focus on a particular kind of food that gives them comfort.
These comfort foods are often associated with negative moods and people consumed them especially when they are down and depressed. But here’s the funny thing, these comfort foods are also consumed when people are in good moods! Foods like ice cream, chocolate and cookies are particularly common among women. For men, it is mostly pizza, steak with coke.
So how does this mood food and weight loss or gain cycle play out?
Emotional eating is a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions of stress, anger, fear, boredom and loneliness. Major life events and sometimes even the hassles of daily life can trigger these emotions that can lead to emotional eating. Some of these can include relationship or work conflicts.
Fatigue, financial pressures and sometimes even health problems can also become tied to eating habits. So much so that you might automatically reach for a treat whenever you are angry or stressed without even thinking about what you are doing. Food serves as a distraction. It calms the person in the short term. However, it starts to create a feeling of shame and guilt.
9 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating
Keep a food diary.
Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you might see patterns that reveal the connection between mood and food.
Tame your stress.
If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
Have a hunger reality check.
Is your hunger physical or emotional? If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not hungry. Give the craving time to pass.
You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group.
Instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself and substitute a healthier behaviour. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the internet or call a friend.
Take away temptation.
Don’t keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. And if you feel angry or blue, postpone your trip to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
Don’t deprive yourself.
When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories too much, eat the same foods repeatedly and banish treats. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, nuts or unbuttered popcorn. Or try lower-calorie versions of your favourite foods to see if they satisfy your craving.
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.
Helping You Discover, Empower & Prosper
Dr Arun Dhir | GI Surgeon, Health Reformist & Passionate Educator.
About Dr Arun:
Besides having a busy private practice at Melbourne Gastro Surgery – Centre for Weight Loss, Dr Arun is an active member of the ANZ Association of Gastro-Oesophageal surgeons (ANZGOSA), ANZ Society of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (OSSANZ) and Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM).
Dr Arun is also a senior lecturer (University of Melbourne) and yoga and meditation teacher, with a strong interest in the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), Creating a New You – Health Journal (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).