Emotional eating – it happens to everyone, even to the best of us. By turning to food whenever we need comfort or a way to relieve stress, more and more people are becoming victims of emotional eating and the health complications that come with it, that is. This is why it is very important to get informed about the ways that you can prevent and put a stop to emotional eating once and for all. Luckily, we have your back, and today we are coming with 8 ways that will help you achieve this goal of yours.
What is emotional eating?
Before we go on explaining what emotional eating is, we need to make a difference between emotional and physical hunger since we will be mentioning these two terms quite often as apart of today’s article. When we say emotional hunger, these are its characteristics:
- It tends to come suddenly;
- It tends to occur in the complete absence of hunger;
- It tends to involve strong cravings;
- It tends to make the individual feel guilty, even ashamed afterward.
Emotional eating refers to eating in order to make yourself feel better without feeling hungry. It is a way to fill your emotional needs, rather than filling your stomach. When we practice emotional eating, there are no feelings of physical hunger, but rather emotional issues that despite the best efforts of using food to fix them, they do not go away (1).
When we do practice, emotional eating, in most cases, is by choosing junk foods, sweets, candy, and other comforting, but highly unhealthy foods. We tend to eat these foods in large quantities and later feel even worse about our past activities. Since we are talking about emotional hunger, feelings of guilt, and shame are quite a common result of emotional eating.
Emotional eating happens to both men and women. However, it is suggested that emotional eating is more common among women as compared to men. Unfortunately, the emotional eating disorder is more common then we would like it to be. According to the American Psychological Association, 27% of the adults had engaged in emotional eating when feeling stressed out. Of those, 27 %, 34% have used unhealthy foods to satisfy their emotional hunger (2).
What causes emotional eating?
The biggest cause of emotional eating is stress. Whenever we are feeling stressed out, our body is producing higher levels of the stress hormone – cortisol. This hormone triggers the body’s stress response, often referred to as the fight or flight response. The stress response characterizes itself with an increase in heart and breathing rate, blood flow to the muscles, and visual acuity.
You may be surprised to learn that part of that stress response is the increased appetite. This is meant to supply the body with the needed fuel that it needs in both of the cases of fight or flight. In most cases, this increase in appetite results in increased cravings for our beloved, yet unhealthy, comfort foods (3).
Anything that causes you to feel stressed out – from financial worries, health issues, to relationship troubles can lead to emotional eating. Feeling depressed and anxious may also lead to emotional eating, as well.
The risk of emotional eating is higher within people who tend to create a certain relationship with food that is filled with comfort, power, and positive feelings. People who think of food as a reward are also exposed to this great risk of emotional eating. Those who are struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia engage more often in emotional eating as well (4).
The side-effects of emotional eating
Before we share some effective ways that we hope and believe will help you to stop a stop to your emotional eating, let’s take a minute to discuss why it is so important that you say no to emotional hunger and eating first. You see, emotional eating comes with too many serious side-effects for us to ignore. In the following, you will discover the most common side-effects caused by uncontrolled emotional eating.
- Feelings of guilt;
- Feelings of shame;
- Stomach pain;
- High blood sugar levels;
- High risk of diabetes;
- High cholesterol levels;
- High blood pressure levels;
- High risk of heart disease, etc. (5)
8 ways to put a stop to emotional eating
So now that you hopefully have understood the risk of engaging in emotional eating, it is time to share some of those effective tips that are meant to help you put a stop to it. Note that getting rid of your emotional eating will not be easy or fast. Like any other life change, it requires time, patience, and a lot of effort.
It is also a process that requires the right methods to be used. Luckily for you, we have you covered. In the following, you will discover these simple, yet highly effective tips that are meant to help you leave any sign of emotional eating far behind you and improve your life, as well as your health for the better.
Whenever you are feeling stressed out and about to turn to your favorite ice cream for comfort, find a way to distract yourself. This could mean going for a short walk, sitting out in the sun and breathing some fresh air, putting on your favorite song and having a little dance party, or calling a close friend or a family member to have a quick chat (6).
Anything that can help you get your mind out of eating is welcomed. Distancing yourself as far as possible from any comfort food is the key here. Plus, by trying out different distraction methods, you may find your new favorite one for next time when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.
Be more active
Regular physical activity can truly do wonders for your mood, energy levels, as well as your overall physical and mental health. It is the number one method used while trying to preserve one’s health and life because of all of the benefits that it has to offer. So why not use those benefits to eliminate emotional eating?
Any physical activity would help; however, researchers have shown that yoga has served as quite an effective method in eliminating binge eating and emotional eating as a part of a study done back in 2009 (7). In just eight weeks, the participants in the study have managed to reduce their stress levels and, with that, curb their emotional eating successfully.
Write a food journal
The number one step in eliminating emotional eating is to identify your triggers. One way to do that is by writing down everything that you eat, especially at times when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed and about to engage in emotional eating (8).
You can use a real-life diary or rely on one of the many different calorie tracking apps available for free online. However, while do you track your calories and the foods that you have eaten, it is very important to track how your mood is changing as well. Do record any emotions that you are going through throughout the day.
Learn how to cope with your stress
As we mentioned earlier, stress seems to be the biggest trigger for emotional eating out there. This means one thing – it is time to get rid of any stressors in your life. And while you do that, it will also be highly effective to try and find the right methods that are meant to help you cope with that gathered-up stress in the first place.
We mentioned yoga as being an effective stress-relief method. We also recommend trying out meditation, at least 5 minutes a day. Reading a book, going for a walk, or even taking a long shower or a relaxing bath can help you feel more relaxed and free of that gathered-up stress. Give yourself a couple of minutes a day to sit back and relax and free yourself of any negative emotions that you have been carrying around with you (9).
Eat a well-balanced diet
Staying healthy and energized throughout the day means that you need to choose the right foods that you will use to fuel and nurture your body. One of the best ways to do that is to choose a well-balanced diet that allows you to introduce all of the needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and carbs, as well as protein (10).
This represents a diet that is filled with fresh fruits and veggies, lean meat, nuts, and seeds. But it also represents a diet that consists of three main meals and one to two snacks a day. Skipping meals is not an option, not if you want to stay healthy, that is. And snacking is an important part of our diet as well. Choose healthy snacks such as popcorn, fruits, veggies, and trail mix, to satisfy your hunger in between meals and prevent any emotional eating.
Try out portion control
While snacking and eating regularly is very much important, eating too many healthy foods can be potentially harming your physical and mental health as well. Overeating is not an option, even on healthy foods, especially not now when you are trying to eliminate emotional eating.
One of the ways to prevent overeating is to try out portion control. There are a lot of ways that you can use to measure your portions right (11). You can try using smaller plates, drinking a glass of water before your meal, eating soup and a salad before lunch and/or dinner, etc. all of which are highly effective. Remind yourself to use veggies to fill in half the plate, placing high-quality protein on a quarter of the plate, and filling the rest of the quarter with healthy carbs. This is a good way to start practicing portion control and maintain a healthy diet (12).
Nobody said that you have to go through something as difficult as emotional eating alone, especially not when you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety in the meantime. Make sure that you ask for help and support from the ones that you love the most such as your family, friends, and your significant other.
You can even join in support groups, most of which are usually anonymous. Speaking with a medical professional is always recommended. Your doctor can help you by referring you to a specialist or a counselor that can help you through the process of eliminating emotional eating (13).
Get rid of any unhealthy, comfort foods
Do you know the popular saying – “Out of sight, out of mind”? Well, it is time that you implement it in your life as well, specifically referring to your emotional eating. Go through your kitchen and find every bit of potato chips, ice cream, chocolate, and sweets and find them a better home. Donate them or gift them to someone close to you to get them out of your home (14).
Do not include any of these unhealthy, comfort foods of yours on your next shopping list. In addition, avoid going to the grocery shop when you feel hungry or stressed out to prevent yourself from buying any more of these foods in the near future. If you have less of these foods lying around your home or office, you are less likely to engage in emotional eating, which is just the effect that we are looking for (15).
How often do you find yourself rummaging through your cupboards looking for some potato chips or chocolate while feeling stressed out and overwhelmed? If that answer is more times, then you would like to admit, you are probably struggling with what professionals are calling emotional eating disorder.
There is no reason to feel ashamed of struggling with an emotional eating disorder. But you should do what you can to put a stop to it, seeing at all of the side-effects that this serious mental health issue brings. We hope that our advice today will help you eliminate any stress and emotional eating, and with that, improve your overall physical and mental health.