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Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food, most commonly junk food, in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.

About Emotional Eating

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.

Eating problems are typically formed during our childhood and teenage years when we often learn that food and eating brings comfort to us when we are upset.  As a result, instead of learning healthy ways to resolve and deal with feelings, many people learn to turn to food for emotional comfort to help reduce negative feelings.  While eating problems may have been formed early, many people do not evidence these problems until adulthood when an eating problem shows up.  Frequently these eating problems are combined with other mental health issues, such as depression, boredom and loneliness, chronic anger and anxiety, frustration, stress, problems with interpersonal relationships and poor self-esteem.

By identifying what triggers your eating, you can substitute more appropriate techniques to manage your emotional issues and take food and weight gain. out of the equation.

How Can You Identify Eating Triggers?

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 You Break Yourself 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 Yourself Isn't Enough to Keep You 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, meditation, or individual or group counseling.

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.

Additional Information

For more information about emotional eating and weight control issues, please visit the links below and the website pages where you will find the anorexia glossary and the bulimia glossary as well as the binge eating glossary.

Medlineplus: weight control
Family Doctor on emotions and weight control
National Institutes of Health: glossary of weight terms

Would You Like Personal Assistance?

If you really want help dealing with your feelings and emotions, changing your behavior, and improving your life and the approach and office hours of typical therapists and counselors do not fit your life style or personal needs, I may have a solution.

By using very flexible office appointments, telephone consultations, email, teleconferences, and the willingness to travel and meet with you personally in your home, office, or other location, I can be available to help you anytime and anywhere.

Feel free to contact me now for your free initial consultation. Once you become an existing client, you will be given a pager number where you can reach me whenever you need.

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