My truth about emotional eating
As a nutrition coach, I help people master their food habits and guide them to have a better relationship with food. My clients, and even friends and family, assume I only eat the healthiest of healthy foods on the planet. They almost fall out of their chair, when I order a burger or piece of cake and ask me “are you allowed to eat that”???
First of all, I am a grownup and can do whatever I want! 😉 And secondly, I love food. Food makes me happy. This includes enjoying chocolate, pancakes, pizza, and so on. Yes, most of the time I eat healthy to fuel my body the best way possible, but I can’t recall too many occasions where I rejected some cookies. I mean, that would just be rude and foolish. 😊
To be completely honest, I even consider myself an emotional eater, which is someone who eats for reasons other than hunger. They may feel stressed, anxious, sad, depressed, lonely, bored, want to reward themselves, lack energy or sleep and then completely ignore their body’s natural hunger signal. When this happens, fullness signals are usually also ignored, which usually leads to over-eating and in extreme cases, when done on a regular basis, it may result in an array of other negative consequences such as:
Stomach pain or nausea
Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa
Guilt or a negative self-image
High blood pressure or high cholesterol
If not addressed, these consequences can over time lead to more serious health issues, which is why it is important to be aware of one’s own emotional eating habits.
What is the cause of emotional eating?
Every person has their own reasons and triggers for emotional eating. Major life events or even just the hassles of daily life can trigger emotions that lead to emotional eating. In my case, emotional eating is most present when I’m bored or sad. Sitting at home doing nothing or just watching TV is when the urge strikes me with full force. That’s why I put a rule in place for myself to not eat anything after dinner. This helps me be more rational and most of the time does the trick. Overcoming sadness is a bit trickier to me. I’m generally a very happy and positive person, so when something makes me sad, it hits me hard. And if I then have chocolate or cookies in my cabinet, they don't stand a chance. That’s why I try not to keep too many of those things at home (to the despair of any spontaneous visitors, who are hoping for some treats. Oops!).
When we eat, the brain releases feel-good hormones, called endorphins. Therefore, we perceive food as soothing and use it to distract us from what’s really bothering us. Unfortunately, this is just a temporary distraction, so it is best to identify our emotional eating triggers and face them head-on.
How to recognize emotional eating
Not sure if emotional eating is a concern for you? Some common signs are when you:
Change your eating habits when you have more stress in your life
Eat when you are not hungry or when you are full
Eat to avoid dealing with a stressful situation
Eat to soothe your feelings
Use food as a reward
How to address your emotional eating
If you related to the signs of emotional eating, let’s try to identify what triggers this behavior. One way to narrow down the underlying causes is to keep a food journal. When you notice yourself reaching for food to comfort yourself, stop, and instead of eating, write down what you are feeling and why. Try to really dig deep to understand what exactly it is that makes you reach for food when you are not actually hungry. Once we identify the triggers, we can put actions in place to combat those emotional eating moments. In those moments, the main thing is to distract yourself:
Change what you are doing
Take a short relaxation break
Go for a walk down the hall or around the block
Take time to stop and think about what is really bothering you and how you could deal with it
Call a friend or family member
Ask yourself, do I want an apple? If the answer is no, you are not really hungry. 😉
In case you are truly hungry, reach for a healthy meal or snack instead of processed foods. Focus on the experience of eating, enjoy your food slowly and intentionally.
And to conclude
As a human being, you are likely to experience emotional eating sometime in your life. If you’re lucky or extremely disciplined with rock-hard willpower, you can just brush it off and go about your usual business. If you’re like me, you could benefit from identifying your triggers and putting little habits in place, to help you keep the damage emotional eating can cause to a minimum. In some cases, it might even be helpful to consult a professional to assist you with this process.
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Head Nutrition Coach
Eat better, not perfect
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