When Charlotte Church revealed her svelte new size eight figure on TV, breezily declaring she’d achieved it by eating less, few women bought it.As much as we know this is the key to weight loss, women rarely eat for nourishment alone – if we did there wouldn’t be an obesity crisis.Our relationship with food is one of the most emotionally charged, satisfying yet guilt-ridden of our relationships.From the time our mother rewards us with a biscuit for being good, to the first time we invite someone for that proverbial ‘cup of coffee’ after a date or comfort eat after a break-up, food really is a metaphor for all that we feel and, many times, all that we can’t quite say. Emotional eating is a relatively common problem for both men and women. If you eat in response to your feelings, especially when you are not hungry, you are an emotional eater. Emotional eating means your emotions — not your body — dictate when and/or how much you eatEmotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food — usually “comfort” or junk foods — in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.Many of us learn that food can bring comfort, at least in the short-term. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional problems. Eating becomes a habit preventing us from learning skills that can effectively resolve our emotional distress.
Are You an Emotional Eater?
You are an emotional eaters if you answer yes to any of the following questions:
- Do you ever eat without realizing you’re even doing it?
- Do you often feel guilty or ashamed after eating?
- Do you often eat alone or at odd locations, such as parked in your car outside your own house?
- After an unpleasant experience, such as an argument, do you eat even if you aren’t feeling hungry?
- Do you crave specific foods when you’re upset, such as always desiring chocolate when you feel depressed?
- Do you feel the urge to eat in response to outside cues like seeing food advertised on television?
- Do you eat because you feel there’s nothing else to do?
- Does eating make you feel better when you’re down or less focused on problems when you’re worried about something?
If you eat unusually large quantities of food or you regularly eat until you feel uncomfortable to the point of nausea, you have a problem with binge eating. Please speak to your health care professional.
Situations and emotions that trigger us to eat fall into five main categories.
- Social. Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in; arguing; or feelings of inadequacy around other people.
- Emotional. Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety or loneliness as a way to “fill the void.”
- Situational. Eating because the opportunity is there. For example, at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food, passing by a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event, etc.
- Thoughts. Eating as a result of negative self-worth or making excuses for eating. For example, scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
- Physiological. Eating in response to physical cues. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pain.
To identify what triggers excessive eating in you, keep a food diary that records what and when you eat as well as what stressors, thoughts, or emotions you identify as you eat. You should begin to identify patterns to your excessive eating fairly quickly.
How Do I Break Myself of the Habit?
Identifying eating triggers is the first step; however, this alone is not sufficient to alter eating behavior. Usually, by the time you have identified a pattern, eating in response to emotions or certain situations has become a habit. Now you have to break that habit.
Developing alternatives to eating is the second step. When you start to reach for food in response to a trigger, try one of the following activities instead.
- Read a good book or magazine or listen to music,Go for a walk or jog, Take a bubble bath , Do deep breathing exercises, Play cards or a board game, Talk to a friend , Do housework, laundry or yard work , Wash the car, Write a letter , Or do any other pleasurable or necessary activity until the urge to eat passes.
What if Distracting Myself Isn’t Enough to Keep Me From Eating?
Sometimes simply distracting yourself from eating and developing alternative habits is not enough to manage the emotional distress that leads to excessive eating. To more effectively cope with emotional stress, try
- Relaxation exercises
- Individual or group counseling
These techniques address the underlying emotional problems which are causing you to binge and teach you to cope in more effective and healthier ways. For more information on these techniques, contact your doctor.As you learn to incorporate more appropriate coping strategies and to curb excessive eating, remember to reward yourself for a job well done. We tend to repeat behaviors that have been reinforced, so reward yourself when you meet your nutrition management goals. Buy that blouse, take that vacation, or get that massage you wanted. By rewarding yourself for a job well done you increase the likelihood that you will maintain your new healthy habits.