Emotional eaters habitually turn to food for comfort, stress relief or to suppress negative emotions. While there is nothing wrong in occasionally using food to lift your mood or celebrate, using it as a coping mechanism whenever you encounter unpleasant emotions only creates a cycle that ignores the underlying problems.
Even worse, emotional eating leaves you feeling ashamed about your lack of control and guilty for overeating, while the emotions that led to your indulgence remain unresolved.
4 Reasons Behind Emotional Eating
The common triggers for emotional eating include:
1. Childhood habits
You might recall your parents rewarding good behavior with snacks and sugary desserts or giving you sweets when you were sad. This behavior then carries over into adulthood and you find yourself indulging in comfort or stress eating.
2. Distress Intolerance
A person with low distress intolerance has great difficulty experiencing strong negative emotions. This inability to cope with shame, anger, anxiety, etc. can cause you to eat as an attempt to avoid or numb these feelings.
Ever noticed the more stressed you are the hungrier you get? It’s no accident. Chronic stress prompts the body to release cortisol–a hormone that triggers junk food cravings. Those sweet, savory or fried foods then give you a temporary burst of pleasure and emotional relief.
4. Boredom and Feeling Purposeless
Sometimes you can find yourself eating to relieve boredom or to fill a perceived void in your life. Food keeps you occupied and gives you something to do, effectively distracting you from feelings of discontent with your life.
If you want to overcome emotional eating, it is imperative you master your emotions and develop healthier food patterns. These tips can help:
- Change your perceptions about food. Instead of classifying foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, learn to see them as healthy. Focus on the quality of food you eat and your health goals and eventually you will find yourself gravitating toward healthier meals.
- Practice mindful eating. Mindful eating involves immersing yourself fully in your eating. Savor every bite and pay attention to its texture, smell and taste as well as the feelings it evokes. This gradually will help you achieve balance between your body’s hunger cues and eating.
- Get rid of temptations. It is hard to remain committed to healthy eating if temptation is all around you. Replacing the junk food in your home with healthy snacks makes it easy to stick to your goals.
- Reduce stress in your life. Instead of turning to food, take up activities such as yoga or swimming to cope with stress and relax your mind and body after a difficult day.
- Learn to accept and deal with your feelings. Negative emotions are an inescapable part of our lives. Instead of seeking solace in food, find better alternatives to help you cope, such as venting to a friend or keeping a journal.
A combination of inner strength, patience and resolve will help you gain control over emotional eating.