What is emotional eating? What causes it? What do we do to fix our emotional eating habits?
Finding comfort in food is so common, that's why the term "comfort food" exists. So first, it's important to understand that if you do suffer from emotional eating, you're not alone.
If you find yourself in your kitchen looking for something to eat when you're down, stressed or otherwise upset, then you probably are practising emotional eating. And just like ANYTHING else we talk about at BODZii, educating yourself on this practise is so SO important.
The more we can understand, the more we can act with intention.
People who emotionally eat reach for food several times a week or more to suppress and soothe negative feelings. They usually feel guilt or shame after eating this way, leading to a cycle of excess eating and associated issues, like weight gain.
Work stress, relationship stress or any other cause for higher cortisol levels can lead to this. The reality is that there's so many reasons why someone might emotionally eat so it's our job to pin point that reason and recognize it. Stare it down. Battle it head on.
So - why food? Well of course as I'm sure you know there are other vices that people look to that might give them a feeling of numbness or allows them to forget about their stresses.
Food give us a temporary sense of wholeness, or fullness (literally and figuratively speaking) when we otherwise might be feeling empty, lonely or sad.
When you're feeling hungry, here are some simple ways to identify emotional hunger vs. true hunger.
1 - True hunger develops slowly over time. Emotional hunger comes about suddenly or abruptly.
2 - With true hunger, you desire a variety of food groups. When emotionally hungry, you crave only certain foods.
3 - With true hunger, you feel the sensation of fullness and take it as a cue to stop eating. When feeling emotional, you may binge on food and not feel a sensation of fullness.
4 - When you eat after being truly hungry, you have no negative feelings about eating. If you eat emotionally, you feel guilt or shame about eating.
If you find yourself relating to this email a lot, take 2-5 minutes before meals or snacks to identify where the need to eat is coming from. The more awareness we can build, the more control we'll have over our eating.
As someone writing this with no real history of emotional eating, I find it difficult to REALLY help educate you without knowing the struggles that real people go through. So I reached out to 30 women who were brave and kind enough to share their experiences with emotional eating, how it manifests itself, and their reasoning behind it.
Here are some questions I asked them along with their answers.
1 - You say you’ve had experience with emotional eating. Can you elaborate a little on this? How would you describe this relationship with food?
- I've suffered from bulimia and bingeing since I was about 16. It started when I first had trauma in my life including my dad being diagnosed with a rare disease and HIV. I would binge for comfort and then purge. It didn't help that I used to be a full-time model for 8 years of my life around the globe, so was surrounded by people with food issues. My relationship with food is much better but I still suffer from the urge to binge on a daily basis.
- Emotional eating for me had to do with pain. Migraines and endometriosis plagued me for most of my life. The pain and exhaustion were chronic. I would eat to cause feelings somewhere else in my body, even binge to cause pain in another part of my body. It was like drinking to forgot my problems, but instead I would eat.
- I find that It was always difficult for me to understand WHY I would start eating. But once I started, I couldnt stop. Eating made me feel like I has a purpose, but then when I stopped, I felt sadness. So I just didn't stop.
2 - How long do you think you had this relationship?
-Over ten years.
-It started in my 20's and went until my mid 30's
- I've had it for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until my early 30s I started to take control.
3 - Has it changed? Whats your relationship like now?
- As I've gotten older and grew personally it's much better and for 70% I eat for what my body needs/wants and mostly do Paleo with my husband.
- Yes!! 100% I now love food for its nutrition and taste!! I want to love what I put into my body, so I eat slowly and enjoy it.
- Absolutely. I've educated myself on what food is supposed to do for me.
- I'm still working on it. It's been a long process.
4 - What triggered you to want to eat?
- Feeling lonely and in situations out of my control
- Helplessness, frustration, sadness, you name it.
5 - What were your go-to foods?
- Foods that I wouldn't normally eat/are unhealthy - ie. deep fried foods
- I craved mostly salty and fatty foods. Like chips, fried foods
6 - How did eating make you feel?
- Comforted for a short period and then awful.
- Ashamed and ugly
- I felt warmth while I ate, and sadness right after I stopped. That's what made me want to keep eating. It's such a hard cycle.
7 - Have you been able to identify why you would want to eat/ the causes/ or a bigger root cause?
- Yes - depression as a key driver and am working through other elements now in emotional clearing.
- Yes I have. Feeling unworthy, unloved and not seen.
- I have. My social anxiety is a huge reason.
8 - What steps have you taken to overcome this?
- Emotional clearing, reiki and currently going through The Spiral https://thespiral.com/ I previously attended therapy at Harley Street in London
- I changed my whole lifestyle. I'm healthier, more focused, and well balanced
- I've had to work with a professional on my anxiety and depression first. This was the only way I was going to get over my emotional eating.
- I find journaling my food helps a lot
Emotional eating comes manifests itself in so so many different ways. We need to understand that there is no ONE diagnosis of emotional eating. It can be slight, it can be severe, it can cause pain, or only slight discomfort. There are different ways to cope, to learn, and to practise healthy eating habits.
We should make an effort to be aware of our eating habits to make sure that what we're doing to our body is healthy, nourishing, and sustainable.