THE HEALTH AND FITNESS BLOG
August 22, 2022 – By Dr. Haider Khalid
Do you feel you experience Emotional Eating? Do you ever notice that sometimes when your most decisive food cravings hit, you are usually feeling down or otherwise upset? As a result, you likely run off to the pantry when you are at your lowest point emotionally.
In that case, you are finding a way out of your worries through food, consciously or subconsciously. It is a well-known practice known as emotional eating (1). People who eat emotionally run off to unhealthy foods several times a week. Therefore, using this defense mechanism to deal with stress sabotages their weight loss efforts.
They start gaining weight which creates a sense of guilt. Conclusively, they are more stressed out about their unusual weight gain. All this leads to a vicious cycle of binge eating, which deteriorates a person’s health. But you don’t need to worry as there is a solution to every problem.
If you are facing the problem of emotional eating, you can stop it by modifying your eating habits. However, there are numerous other techniques to deal with this problem, and if you are looking for solutions, then you are at the right place. This article will teach you the facts about emotional eating and ways to stop it.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is one of several coping mechanisms people use to deal with negative emotions such as stress. Therefore, some scientific literature also labels emotional eating as stress eating. In simple words, you think that you are feeding your body, but in reality, you are feeding your emotions.
At this point, you are probably wondering how to differentiate between emotional and physical hunger. To explain this, I am using the mayo clinic criteria to distinguish between the two (2).
|Emotional Hunger||Physical Hunger|
|Develops Suddenly||Develops Gradually|
|You desire only a particular food||Craving for each food is the same|
|You don’t feel the sensation of fullness||You feel the sense of fullness|
|Feel guilty after binge eating||You don’t feel bad after eating|
What Triggers Emotional Eating?
The primary trigger for emotional eating is stress. The stress can be because of work or relationship issues. People also feel stressed out due to financial and health problems (3). In all these cases, people tend to eat more to cope with negative emotions.
Most people tend to eat less in the face of strong emotions. However, in cases of extreme emotional distress, people start binge eating. It is a problem that occurs in both sexes. But studies have reported that emotional eating is a much more common issue in women than men. Most women can also relate that their survival kit to deal with most of their stress issues is food (4)
There is another way to understand the concept of emotional eating. When you are stressed, your body creates an emotional void or emptiness. Then you use food as a physical factor to provide a feeling of fullness or temporary wholeness. Therefore, people start eating more when they cannot deal with stress.
What are the Signs of Emotional Eating?
Signs of emotional eating are versatile. According to the information discussed, people eat more to deal with negative emotions. However, positive emotions also lead to binge eating in some individuals (5).
Here are some signs through which you tell if you have the problem of emotional eating or binge eating.
You Eat to Cope Stress
When you experience stressful situations such as work, studies, or exams, you subconsciously or consciously start eating more. There is significant evidence in the literature that supports this statement.
Most of the students start eating more whenever their exam comes. As a result of that, they gain weight during their exams (6). It mostly happens when you stay late at night and eat snacks or unhealthy foods the whole time you stay awake.
You Eat to Overcome Emotions
There are certain emotions in which people are more likely to move to binge eating. Sadness, disappointment, anger, loneliness, anxiousness, tiredness, and boredom are common negative emotions that lead to binge eating (7). If you are eating to deal with any of the above sentiments, you may have the problem of emotional eating.
You Can’t Stop Eating
In emotional eating, you cannot control your hunger. You start eating without any sensation of an empty stomach, and you keep on eating even after your stomach is full of food. It seems that your eating center in the brain has gone autonomous without any control of conscience. Sometimes, you may go out of the way to get some food even when you are not feeling hungry.
You Feel Happy while Eating
Suppose you are emotionally dependent on eating, and your happiness is directly linked to eating food. In that case, you should know that you have an emotional eating problem. This is because you derive positive emotions from your food even when you know that food is nothing but a necessity for survival, just like air and water (8). But it would be best not to confuse this with appreciating food that tastes good. That is an entirely different thing.
You Have Random Food Cravings
Sometimes, you start to have a random food craving out of nowhere. You begin fantasizing about a particular dish in your mind even when your stomach is full. What’s worse? Not eating the desired food can lead to unhappiness, frustration, and sadness (9).
Until now, you have understood the various forms and triggers of emotional eating. If you have a similar problem, you are probably wondering what to do about it or how you can stop emotional eating. Don’t worry; you will get the answer to this in no time.
Is Emotional Eating the Same as Binge Eating?
Most of you would relate that you eat to feel at ease in times of extreme stress rather than to quench your hunger. But once asked, you would say you only eat to deal with your emotions, not binge eating. It is because; most of you consider binge eating and emotional eating two different things.
Let me tell you that emotional eating and binge eating are not necessarily different processes. However, emotional eating in the long term can develop into diagnosable eating disorders such as binge eating. Conclusively, the continuum of emotional eating leads to binge eating disorder (10).
How Can Emotional Eating Affect the Performance of a Person?
Let us suppose an example of emotional eating. Say you feel anxious or stressed after a difficult day at your office. Suddenly you thought of a cake that is present in your fridge. So you reach out for a piece of cake and tuck it in. After that, you feel satisfied and think how lucky you are to have a fantastic piece of cake.
Now you have positive thoughts in your mind, and you get on with your plans for the day. You probably think about what’s wrong with this scenario. It’s what everyone does, and you probably do too. But it has some ill effects once adopted for the long term. So let’s have a closer look at that.
Real Reason Remains Uncovered and Unaddressed
The biggest problem with emotional eating is that the real problem remains uncovered and unaddressed. You eat delicious food, and your negative thoughts are gone for the time being. But have you ever thought about what is causing these emotions? Probably not!
How can you deal with negative emotions if you don’t know the cause? The deeper places where the emotions come from remain unaddressed.
Emotional Eating Cycle
The real problem in emotional eating remains unsolved. Therefore, once the temporary effect of eating fades away, you again start feeling the same sad void around you. You again start having the same ugly emotions. After that, you eat again to deal with these emotions. Conclusively, an emotional eating cycle develops that damages the person’s growth. Therefore, you must know the ways to stop emotional eating.
You will slowly develop food dependency when you start eating to deal with negative emotions. Food will become your crutch, and you cannot function if you don’t get food. It’s a drug addiction in which you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you don’t get the drug in the required time (11).
If you have this problem, you must deal with it by self-generating a sense of happiness. All of us have the potential to do that, but we forget about it once we start eating to deal with emotions.
Physical Implications of Emotional Eating
In addition to the mental effects, emotional eating has significant side effects on the human body. The most immediate and noticeable impact is an unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain exacerbating the situation. Often, weight gain leads to low self-esteem and self-hate, which produce further negative emotions (12).
In addition to poor health, you abuse your body by forcing it to digest and absorb an unusual amount of food. As a result, it has multiple long-term health issues, such as an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
How Can You Stop Emotional Eating?
Here you will get to know eight standard techniques to stop emotional eating because it doesn’t stop on its own until you take the necessary steps to prevent it on time.
Find a Way to Cope with Stress
The most critical step in stopping emotional eating is to find other ways to cope with stress, such as writing a journal or reading a book. You can also consult a mental health professional to know effective ways to deal with stress.
Get Regular Exercise
It would be best to try to move your body. It doesn’t matter whether it’s weight lifting or stretching exercises. Just try to give some time to your muscles and get regular exercise. You will see the results.
Keep a Food Diary
You can also keep a log of what you eat and when you eat can help you identify the possible triggers of emotional eating. You can then work on avoiding those triggers. Moreover, keeping a diary of your eating habits can also help you in case you decide to consult with a mental health professional.
Emotional eating becomes worse when you start eating unhealthy foods. Therefore, you must focus on your nutrient intake to fulfill your body’s needs. You can also add healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables to deal with binge eating.
In times of stress, loneliness only worsens the scenario. Therefore, whenever you feel anxious, try calling on your friend. There are also multiple websites and social media pages where you can find people with the same problem as you. You can chat with them, and you will indeed feel better.
During emotional eating, you mostly eat while doing some other activity. So next time you start eating something, try avoiding all these distractions, such as switching the TV off or putting away your mobile phone. This will help you discover that you are merely stress eating and you are not hungry at all.
Don’t Deprive Yourself of Food
Altogether avoiding the food doesn’t help in cases of emotional eating. If you suddenly banish foods, this can lead to an increase in your food cravings. All of this will result in a sudden withdrawal, and all of your problems will remain unsolved. Therefore, take baby steps and don’t deprive yourself of food.
Learn from Setbacks
You should be lenient with yourself in the beginning. These things take time, and you can’t stop emotional eating in a single day. Therefore, if you have an emotional eating episode, you should not lose your heart and start fresh. It would be best if you made changes in your eating habits slowly. You should appreciate yourself for even the slightest effort you make in stopping emotional eating.
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