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“I am feeling stressed. I am not feeling good today. Maybe, I should eat something- An ice cream, chocolate truffle, or cheesy pizza.” We all have experienced such thoughts and actions which later turn into regret and guilt for eating, later continued by questions like, “Why did I do it? Is there something wrong with me? Why did I eat when I wasn’t hungry?” Sometimes our hunger is driven by our emotions and feelings. Let us find out the answers and discuss the concept of emotional eating in detail.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Eating is one of the most important actions required for the survival of the individual. It helps us sustain and grow our bodies on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.
We feel hungry and then we provide our body with the required nutrients in the form of food. But what if we are eating when aren’t really feeling hungry or even after we are full? The action of eating even when we are not feeling hungry physically is classified as Emotional Eating.
“Emotional eating is using food to comfort ourselves and make ourselves feel better rather than fulfilling our physiological needs.”
We use food as an escape mechanism to suppress or soothe negative emotions like anger, stress, anxiety, sadness, boredom, or loneliness. When we experience these emotions we impulsively open our refrigerator or order something to eat to comfort ourselves. But, what comes after eating emotionally is guilt and regret. Even after eating we feel comforted for some time but the root cause of the negative emotion remains unresolved. And at the same time, we sabotaged our journey toward weight management and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
So, physical hunger and emotional hunger might appear the same but they are different from each other in various ways.
Emotional Eating And Weight Gain
Emotional eating and weight gain have a very close relationship. Obviously, it can affect your weight loss journey. What happened is:
During emotional eating, we are disconnected from reality and we eat whatever food gives us pleasure. We eat to satisfy our senses but not our physiological needs. During this, we tend to eat food or junk food that is high in calories and contains a large amount of sugar and fat. Consuming such food in large quantities hampers our weight loss journey and acts as a major hurdle in adopting a healthy lifestyle.
To follow a diet plan for weight loss, you have to be mindful of eating. So, this is how emotional eating can slow down the weight loss process.
Difference Between Emotional Hunger And Physical Hunger
- Physical hunger arises when our body signals that we need to eat and stop when we feel full. Physical hunger comes with signs like stomach growling, a feeling of lethargy, or feeling weak.
- Emotional hunger doesn’t show such physical signs. Instead of being driven by the physiological needs of the body, emotional hunger is driven by emotional needs. Though both pangs of hunger might look similar they can be easily differentiated.
Common Signs Of Emotional Hunger
- It comes urgent and with impulse.
- Craving for specific food- like pizzas, chocolates, or ice-creams.
- It often leads to eating without being mindful.
- We crave more even after we are full.
- It comes from our heads so we are more focused on taste and smell.
- Also, it eventually leads to shame or guilt.
Common Signs Of Physical Hunger
- It develops gradually and can wait.
- We do not crave a very specific food, anything that satisfies our hunger will do.
- We stop eating when the sensation of hunger dies.
- It comes from our bodies’ physical needs.
- Absence of feeling of guilt or shame.
Causes Of Emotional Eating
Though emotional eating can be triggered by various negative emotions there are certain common emotions and feelings which often lead to emotional eating-
In this faced paced world experiencing stress is very common. But when it becomes persistent and chaotic then it could lead to emotional eating. When experience stress then our body produces cortisol. A high level of cortisol triggers the craving for salty, fried, or sweet edibles. More stress means we are more susceptible to eating emotionally.
We often eat when we are alone or not doing anything. We might feel unsatisfied or aimless for the time being. Then we use food as a medium to fill that void and give meaning to the time in which we are not doing anything.
3. Old Habits
Emotional eating often reflects our old eating habits. In childhood when we were upset or sad our parents would give us something to eat or our mother might cook our favourite food to eat.
Is Emotional Eating An Eating Disorder?
- Although emotional eating is motivated by our emotions, it is still unanswered whether it is considered an eating disorder.
“The American Psychological Association classifies eating disorders as, ‘’any disorder characterized primarily by a pathological disturbance of attitudes and behaviors related to food, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.”
- Sometimes reaching for that specific food item just does the trick when we need to soothe ourselves, unwind, or take it away. It is normal and ok to do so. Though emotional eating is not an eating disorder, it is a characteristic of unhealthy eating patterns which can later lead to eating disorders like bulimia nervosa or binge eating.
While occasional emotional eating is not bad but we have to be a little mindful that we are eating to soothe ourselves. When we lose awareness of what we are eating, how much we are eating, and why we are eating, then we need to become cautious about our eating habits and pattern as this becomes a precursor for eating disorders.
How To Control Emotional Eating?
There are various ways through which we can control our habit of eating emotionally.
1. Avoid Staying Idle
Do not sit idle for a long period of time. We need to keep ourselves busy.
2. Follow The Proper Diet
Following a set diet pattern helps us balance out our physical hunger and at the same time provides us with a road map to follow and achieve our healthy lifestyle goal. Consult a dietitian for the customised diet plan. He/she can guide you to make better food choices which will not only be helpful for weight management but stress management too. Our experts have already helped thousands of clients.
See how our dietitians helped Neha to manage her stress level with personalised diet plan.
3. Keep A Diary
Keeping a diary and writing down what we feel helps us let our emotions out. It also helps us understand our emotions better and gives us a better insight into which emotions make us feel like eating something.
4. Practice Meditation
Meditation and mindfulness practices help us manage our negative feelings like the feeling of being anxious, nervous, anger, or sad. Mindful eating is also effective in making decisions about the food we are taking. It helps in managing our habit of emotional eating.
Why is emotional eating harmful?
Doing emotional eating occasionally is not bad but when it becomes uncontrolled and we lose the sense of what we are eating completely, then it becomes a concern.
What is it called when you eat when you are sad?
Emotional eating. Using food to comfort and feel better rather than meeting our physiological demands is referred to as emotional eating.
It’s important for us to be observant about our mental health along with our physical health. There are various signs of emotional eating and emotional eating is normal. If you want to move away from this cycle of emotional eating then identify the pattern of the emotions leading to it. If you are unable to identify the pattern then it would be best to consult a professional.
Contact Us Today
Are you struggling with the same? Then your search to find the right guidance ends here. Our weight loss experts, mental coaches, and yoga experts have helped thousands of clients globally to attain a healthy lifestyle and stress-free life. So, contact us today and start your healthy journey with us.
This blog is for information purposes only. If you find any of the above symptoms, please contact mental health professionals, or even you can book a consultation with us.