When you are feeling stressed, bored, unhappy, lonely, or tired, you may have the urge to eat something comforting and delicious, and most of the time, something familiar. This might give us a temporary feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction, and comfort, but this wears off soon, and with consequences.
If you want to lose weight, you might find yourself in a vicious cycle: After that brief moment of pleasure, guilt may step in, which may lead you to reach for another treat to calm or relieve yourself again. And for some individuals it just never ends…
It is also noted that people who consciously restrict their diets may also be more prone to emotional eating.
Other causes of emotional eating are:
-difficulty in experiencing, expressing, and describing emotional responses,
-and a reversed hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) stress axis (our body’s hormonal response system to stress).
Emotional eating may also be the outcome of inadequate parenting during our childhoods, or depression. The association of emotional eating with depression and poor emotion regulation skills suggests that the treatment of obese people with a tendency to eat in response to emotional stress, should not focus on calorie-restricted diets but rather on emotion regulation skills.
Take action against emotional eating:
Let’s be realistic here… it is VERY hard to “unlearn” bad habits, formed in the presence of stress and / or strong emotional feelings, especially if you find yourself in that space on a daily basis. It is already part of your life, but it is not WHO you are. YOU are in control of what, and when you put something in your mouth. So, next time you have that desire to grab something to put in your mouth and you know you are feeling stressed or experiencing any strong emotional feelings, ask yourself the following questions:
- Why am I eating this? Am I really hungry?
- Will my body benefit from this food in any other way other than temporary pleasure/comfort?
- Is there any healthier alternative?
Studies have shown that the type of food that emotional eaters consume during stressful or emotional periods are not linked to the nutritional content / composition of those foods, but rather the taste. Although tastes are somewhat linked to gender and age, commonly preferred foods are mostly sweet and rich (usually high in fat and sugar). Substituting the “wrong” food with “right / healthier” food in periods of emotional eating doesn’t solve the initial problem of turning to food for comfort, but it is a starting point as you gain consciousness of what you put into your body.
Relook at your diet. Make sure you follow a healthy balanced diet wherever possible. Get adequate amounts of sleep to make sure that you are well rested and prepared, and then, try the following strategies / alternatives the next time you feel stressed or emotional:
- Do something else that you enjoy, e.g. read a book, watch a movie, shop (not grocery shopping), take the dog for a walk, have tea with a friend, paint, colour-in (invest in an adult colouring-in book) etc.
- Exercise daily. Exercise helps release those endorphins / “feel-good” hormones which helps us to have a more positive outlook in life.
- Remove temptation: Stock up on more nutritious snacks such as yoghurt, fruit, nuts (watch portions as these are high in energy and may result in weight gain if not eaten in moderation), or air-popped popcorn. Don’t keep chocolates, sweets, biscuits, chips, etc. at home, office, car, or wherever you are.
- Get support. Lean on friends and family or find professional help if you battle on your own. Psychologists or counsellors may teach you coping mechanisms to help you overcome emotional stress.
- Last, but not least, forgive yourself if you have a setback or two. Learn from the experience and move on… Focus on the positive changes that you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to better health in time.
Be kind to yourself. Love and respect yourself. You were given one body, one life.
Please take care of yourself.
Thank you to Melissa Ludick for the contribution.