Food does more for us than feed our tummies. When you're sad have ice cream sundaes, when you accomplish something big, treat yourself to a cupcake...you earned it, when you're bored, have some Cheetos. Food has somehow found a way to satisfy or compliment our feelings. Our emotions trigger our eating and we eat for reasons other than to satisfy hunger. This is what experts call emotional eating.
This behavior is not natural and normal, it was learned and reinforced. When we were children and we were sad, nothing cheered us up better than a sweet treat. This behavior continued to be reinforced year after year until it became a normal behavior as adults. We never really learned how to deal with our emotions because we always felt better by "treating" it with a decadent dessert. We all eat for emotional reasons sometimes. But, when eating becomes the main way to manage emotions then it becomes a problem. Most of the time the foods that we choose to satisfy our emotional urges are not necessarily the healthiest choices. These extra calories (that your body often do not need) are stored as fat and will lead to weight gain. Excess weight gain can lead to being overweight or obese which lends itself to a whole new set of problems.
How to Tell if you are Eating Emotionally
Believe it or not, there is a big difference between emotional eating and eating because you are hungry.
1. Emotional eaters only eat when they are feeling strong emotions and it only happens above the neck. Emotional hunger happens suddenly while physical hunger occurs gradually. Physical hunger happens from the waist down. Your tummy rumbles and growls.
2. Emotional eaters eat especially when they are bored.
3. Emotional eaters eat to fill a void that is not related to being physically hungry per se. For instance, when you crave something in particular that no other food can satisfy the need, you are eating out of emotion and not because you are really hungry. If you were physically hungry, you would be open to other options.
4. When you continue eating even though you know you are satisfied, you are eating to satisfy an emotional need. When you eat because you are truly hungry, you are more likely to stop when you are full.
5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt. It involves absent-minded eating. You may not notice that you've just eaten a whole bag of cookies.
Overcoming Emotional Eating
The first step to overcoming this problem is recognizing that there is a problem. Recognize what triggers this behavior. Write these down. Then, create a list of things that you can do to replace the emotional eating behavior. Go for a walk, drink a glass of water, etc. If these do not work, and you must eat, then choose a food that comforts you. Choose a comfort food that is healthy! If you insist that a healthy comfort food does not exist, then I strongly recommend that you divide your comfort food into small portions and only eat one small portion or only have a few bites then put it away. Be mindful of what you put into your mouth and remember that moderation is key. Last but not least, listen to your body!! It will never fail to tell you what it needs....the hardest part is listening to it.