12 Weeks No Diets – Emotional Eating
Thanks for the positive response to “12 Weeks No Diets!” I’m so happy to hear so many of you are excited about it!
Since my posting on Monday, I’ve gotten a lot of emails about emotional eating and ways to overcome it. Emotional eating can be a pretty heavy topic. I’ve definitely had my issues with it… trust me! I have some experience in the area, but I’m not an expert. This post just touches on some of the main issues behind it. There are references at the end that provide more details and more ways to cope.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than the true feeling of physical hunger. Emotional eating is feeding our feelings, not our hunger. Reasons we may eat can include anxiety, loneliness, boredom, sadness, happiness, celebration, stress, etc… and any other reason you can think of that you eat other than hunger. We’re basically eating to fill a void. Emotional hunger can arrive suddenly, while physical hunger builds up and comes on gradually. When we eat to fill a void we often reach for “comfort” foods. For some, this may be high starch/carb laden foods. Emotional hunger often needs to be satisfied instantly.
The Numbing Effect
When we eat when we’re not hungry (emotional eating), it’s difficult to tell when we’ve had enough. When we eat when we’re not hungry, we can’t tell when we’re full. It’s almost like a numbing feeling. It’s like the endless bag of potato chips. We eat for emotion and don’t stop until the bag is gone, or, we don’t stop until we feel uncomfortably full. If we still have a void, we can easily look for more food. When we eat for true physical hunger we can tell right away when we’re full… so we stop eating.
Emotional Eating & Weight Gain
When we consistently eat for reasons other than hunger, we will gain weight. Majority of the time when we eat for emotion, we eat unhealthy food… so this doesn’t help the situation. If our body is not physically hungry and we eat anyway, our body most likely did not need the calories. Even worse is when we use food as the main reason to cope with our emotions. I’ve said this over and over again, weight gain occurs when we CONSISTENTLY eat when we’re not hungry. Even if we are eating healthy, if we’re over eating we will gain weight.
Coping With Our Emotions
We all have moments when we eat out of emotion… the problem occurs when we use food as our main form of coping. Learning to cope with our emotions without food is vital… especially if we have a weight problem. This can be very hard… especially if we’ve been eating out of emotion for many years. I have had clients who haven’t felt true physical hunger in decades. When we stop eating for emotion, we are forced to face those emotions. If we’re use to snacking after dinner and we stop, we need to find something else to fill that void. The really hard part comes when we really want to eat something, but know that we are not physically hungry. We have to deal with that feeling which at times can be tough. The good news is the more we learn to deal with it, the easier it will become. The goal is to consistently associate food with hunger. The more we get use to this, the easier it is to be around food and have no desire to eat because we’re not hungry. The ultimate goal is to consistently eat when we’re hungry. If we have a moment when we eat out of emotion, we just accept it for what it is and move on. Just take it one meal at a time.
This article covers a very small part of emotional eating. I by no means am an expert in this area. If you feel you need more guidance, two great references are author Geenen Roth (her books cover emotional eating in detail as well as ways to cope), and the book Intuitive Eating (this book has one chapter on emotional eating, but the entire book is ideal for someone who consistently eats when not hungry). If you feel you need more help, please contact a local Dietitian and he/she can guide you in the right direction.