Ah emotional eating… it’s a real thing. We do it for SO many reasons. These reasons can be as simple as thinking gosh: I’ve had a tough day and I so deserve that donut (or box of donuts) on the way home. It can look like diving into the tub of ice cream when you’re upset. Rewarding yourself with a box of cookies when you get good news. Boredom, stress, exhaustion, hormones (am I right…!) can all trigger you to seek comfort in the arms of high fat and high sugar foods.
Now, emotional eating is normal we all do it, there’s no problem in taking pleasure in the food you eat, in fact, it’s recommended. There’s however a BIG difference between choosing to eat the brownie as a little pick-me-up during the day. And using a tray of brownies as a way to avoid the pain, stress or boredom of the day.
Emotional eating vs physical hunger.
Ok so what is emotional eating vs actual physical hunger:
Physical hunger is when you feel hunger pangs in your stomach. Any food sounds appealing, a bowl of veggies, a home-cooked meal. Just give me food to fuel my body!!
Emotional hunger on the other hand, is where you associate comfort with food. It’s normally triggered suddenly and leaves you craving high fat and sugar foods.
Emotional hunger patterns are often learnt during our childhood. Like when the dentist rewards you with a lollipop for being on your best behaviour. Or when you were upset and were given food to make you feel better. And now, as an adult, when you feel these same emotions you associate certain foods with comfort.
The thing is the boost you get from food is short-lived, but the guilt or shame associated with eating a packet of oreo’s lasts longer AND subsequently increases your levels of stress, sadness, or whichever emotion you feeling.
How to work through Emotional Eating
Living life where you’re not depriving yourself of any food is an excellent way of keeping you motivated to live a healthier life. However, before grabbing the donut take a pause and ask yourself, why am I suddenly craving something deep-fried and smothered in chocolate?
Often we are not even aware that something has triggered us and is leading to these sudden cravings.
The first step is to become aware of this pattern.
Then as daunting as it may sound, you need to acknowledge the emotions that you’re feeling and genteelly accept these emotions. It’s so important to give yourself the space to acknowledge that what you’re feeling is valid. Use these emotions as information to learn more about yourself.
The next step is to start making choices that steer you closer to the person you want to be!
Our top tips
Once you have recognised the pattern and accepted the emotions you’re feeling. You may realise that you’re not actually hungry. Instead, choose to do something you love to break this pattern.
- Like having a cup of tea with a good book
- Dancing in the living room
- Calling a friend.
- Taking a walk
- Doing a gentle yoga class
- It could be choosing a healthier alternative to satisfy the craving like choosing the 80% dark chocolate instead, or wait until you get home to make easy chocolate mug cake to hit the spot.
Don’t forget that there is no one size fits all approach.
Emotional eating is a real thing and often we not even aware that’s why we stuffing our face with the closest sweet treat.
When I’m upset or worked up I pause and acknowledge that this a full-on emotional craving and actively choose a healthier alternative before falling waaay off the deep end. It all starts with awareness. Than moves on to the ok, now what am I going to do about this…
David, S. Howes, L. 2021. School of Greatness Podcast. Found at: https://soundcloud.com/lewishowes/susan-david-the-art-of-emotional-agility
Disord, J. 2018. Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviors and concerns. Found at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137864/