Do you find yourself "hungry" 20 minutes after dinner, but you felt full when you left the table? Do you wander aimlessly into the kitchen, opening cabinet after cabinet, but never finding what you want? Do you eat more when you're upset? These can be indicators of emotional
eating. Read on to discover possible reasons and triggers and some tips to help you overcome!
Emotional eating is the use of food to make yourself feel better; You eat to satisfy emotional needs, rather than physical hunger. Emotions like boredom, loneliness, stress, sadness and grief can often trigger us to look into the cabinet, fridge or freezer to distract ourselves from the feelings we are experiencing or to self-soothe.
We rarely do this when we feel good; Happiness, elation and excitement don't often produce a desire to self soothe or a need to distract ourselves from those types of feelings. Those are the ones we want to carry with us all day. We need to be realistic though, life is hard! We can't be happy 24/7 and it's ok to feel bad sometimes. It's our reluctance to deal with the tough emotions that leads us to reach for those cookies, ice cream or other non-nutritious foods. Let's be real, we don't reach for an apple or broccoli when we are sad or angry, am I right?!? But, even if we did, eating to take the place of dealing with one's emotions is still not a healthy habit to have.
How do we recognize, process and come out on the other side all while avoiding the kitchen or the local convenience store for junk "food" to temporarily soothe our feelings? Well, first I think you need to know the signs of emotional "hunger" v. physical hunger.
There is a difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Most of us don't stop and take the time to differentiate between the two. Physical hunger comes on more gradually, you are generally open to all foods, it's based in the stomach, coming from a physical need, you will make deliberate choices and have an awareness of eating and you stop when you are full.
Emotional eating is different; It is sudden. You usually want a very specific food and it's all "above the neck," the stomach is not involved. It is urgent and paired with an upsetting emotion. It also involves absent minded eating and you won't stop when you're full. You might even feel guilty afterwards.
I think a key part of this is to learn to be comfortable with your feelings, identify them, stop putting so much pressure on yourself to quickly get over them or be constantly happy/joyful. It's ok to have times and moments of sadness, frustration, anger, etc.. Instead of reaching for that pint of Haagen Das, reach for your journal and write it down, go for a walk, grab a glass of water instead or phone a friend! There is nothing wrong with our feelings, it's what we DO as a result of them that often gets us into trouble.