Psychologists describe emotional eating as a normal coping mechanism when people want to change, escape, forget, or amplify their feelings.
Although emotional eating is something that one in five women and one in seven men can experience in their lifetime, the condition can lead to various disorders. Anorexia nervosa, binge-eating, and bulimia nervosa are some examples.
The problem has become so pervasive that more than 5 million are dealing with such disorders annually, according to a statement by the American Psychological Association during the 2022 Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The good news is cultivating a positive body image can help people with eating disorders.
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How can you overcome emotional eating? What are the alternative ways to “feed your feelings”?This article will discuss how to respond to emotional hunger and determine the root cause of this habit.
Here are some steps to take to avoid eating out of emotional hunger:
Recognize your triggers.
Keep a journal to track what you eat. List down what you ate every time you overate or reach out to your comfort food. Note what upset you before you ate and your feelings before, during, and after that “snack” or “meal.”
Give yourself five minutes to think when you feel the urge to grab a bite.
Compared to physical hunger, emotional hunger comes suddenly and typically involves a craving for high-fat or sugary comfort foods. Emotional hunger can also lead to overeating as people can’t seem to achieve a sense of fullness.
Check yourself when you start craving food. Then tell yourself to postpone eating for five minutes. Are you angry or lonely? Or both? Then proceed to the next step.
Emotional eaters are typically critical of themselves. Don’t blame yourself if a negative emotion overcomes you. Instead, connect with your feelings and examine the thoughts or beliefs fuelling those emotions.
Examine your inner dialogue to identify and root out defeatist self-talk, which causes hopelessness and despair.
Eat healthier and savor your food.
Include more vitamin D-rich food in your diet to lift your mood. Fish such as salmon, eggs, fortified milk and cereals, and mushrooms are good sources of this nutrient.
Try eating slowly and appreciating your food’s texture, taste, and smell. Doing so may help you feel full even with smaller food portions.
Adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
Allot time for physical activity, get enough sleep, and spend time with people who inspire you. These habits will allow your mind and body to relax and recharge, so you won’t have to turn to food for stress relief.
Know when to get help.
Sometimes eating disorders have an underlying medical issue. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or consult a psychologist to determine if your eating problem is due to depression or chronic pain.
Here are some factors that can set off people’s emotional hunger pangs. Which one of them triggers you?
Being rewarded with food such as pizza, ice cream, or candy for good behavior or academic performance can carry over into adulthood.
Situational and seasonal stress
The disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, a fast-paced work environment, or colder temperatures can lead to emotional eating episodes.
During stressful situations, your body produces cortisol, a hormone that makes you naturally want salty, fried, and sugary food.
When people face any of the “uncomfortable” emotions below, some may choose to numb their feelings by eating:
o Helplessness or loss of control
o Loss of independence
o Feeling smothered or too needed
Emptiness or boredom
Some people eat because they have nothing to do or feel that food can fill the void in their lives.
The next time the urge for comfort food strikes, see if you can respond to your emotions in alternative ways:
- When you’re exhausted or stressed out
Do some relaxation exercises. Or listen to some feel-good music. You can also shower and sip a hot cup of tea. Then light some scented candles known for their calming effects, such as jasmine, lavender, and chamomile.
Set a bedtime that allows you to sleep more. Turn off your screen devices at least an hour before your sleeping hour.
- When you’re anxious
Squeeze a stress ball. Take a brisk walk. Dance to your favorite song.
- When you’re lonely or depressed
Call, talk, or send a message to an encouraging relative or friend. Play with your pet.
- When you’re bored
Read an interesting book or watch a funny TV show. Explore the outdoors. Engage in your hobby, such as gardening, biking, playing an instrument, painting, or woodworking.