What Is Emotional Eating?
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When most people consider the topic of addiction, they think of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In reality, however, addiction can encompass many things, even those as simple as shopping or daily eating habits. It is important to look specifically at eating habits and how different emotions can affect the relationship that some people have with food. 

The topic of what is referred to as emotional eating is a very complex one. It is essentially a response in which one turns to food for comfort as a result of dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotions. When this practice happens from time to time, it might be regarded as no big deal. However, when it starts happening on a consistent basis, it may be something that needs to be seriously addressed. 

Understanding the Signs of Emotional Eating

Many people who deal with emotional eating struggle with feelings that go well beyond physical hunger. They may find themselves turning to food for comfort even after they’ve reached the point of feeling full. This could be because they are feeling stressed, lonely, or experiencing some other kind of emotional problem. 

This can start off as a simple habit. For example, maybe after a long day at work, a person decides to stop for fast food instead of cooking a nutritious meal. Or maybe after an argument with a friend, they decide to order a pizza for themselves to feel better. When this is just an occasional thing, it is probably not something to worry about. But it is when turning to food becomes an immediate response to any negative emotion that a person may be developing a problem. They might be struggling with emotional eating or even an addiction to food. 

Signs of Emotional Eating

If a person is not sure whether or not they have an emotional eating habit, they should consider the following questions: 

  • Do you feel like you lack control when it comes to your relationship with food? 
  • Do you eat beyond the point of feeling full? 
  • Do you tend to turn to food when you’re feeling stressed? 
  • Do you often reward yourself for getting through a hard day with food? 
  • Do you eat when you’re bored or lonely? 

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then emotional eating may be present. 

Differentiating Between Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize whether or not a person has a problem with emotional eating because they can’t differentiate between it and physical hunger. There are things that one can do to tell these things apart:

#1. Think about the kinds of foods being craved. When someone is physically hungry, a lot of different foods are likely going to sound appealing, including healthy, nutritious meals. But when someone is emotionally hungry, they may tend to crave primarily junk food, sweets, and processed snacks. 

#2. Consider the timing of the hunger. Someone will typically become hungry after going a decently long period of time without eating. If a person maintains a pretty regular eating schedule, then they can probably even anticipate what times during the day their body is going to start exhibiting the symptoms of hunger, alerting them that it is time to eat again. On the other hand, emotional hunger can often come out of nowhere, even after already having a meal. 

#3. Consider what it feels like after eating. When a person is eating as a response to physical hunger, they’re probably going to be feeling a lot better after they’re full. However, because emotional eating is not a response to true hunger, the individual will likely still be craving more food even after they’re done eating. 

Getting to the Bottom of Emotional Eating

Emotional eating can be a vicious cycle. It begins with a negative emotion and a desire to get rid of that emotion. The response is to turn to food. The response to emotional eating is often a sense of guilt or shame that will only start the process all over again. At the end of the day, the most important thing to realize is that none of this is solving the problem at hand. 

If you think you have a problem with emotional eating, the best thing that you can do is talk to a therapist. They can help you work through your emotions in a productive way without needing to turn to food as a crutch. There are also some things that you can do when you feel an urge to emotionally eat coming on. You can handle your stress in a healthier way by getting some exercise, spending time out in nature, practicing yoga or some other form of meditation, and talking through your emotions with a trusted family member or friend. 

Emotional eating is a common problem and can even lead to food addiction for some people. People who eat emotionally turn to food for comfort when dealing with negative emotions like stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or even boredom. They often eat beyond the point of feeling full and may typically turn to salty, processed snacks and junk food instead of healthy, nutritious meals. This can begin a vicious cycle that does nothing to solve the real problem at hand. One of the best ways to combat emotional eating is to work through your emotions with a therapist. If you are struggling with addiction, our team at The Ho Tai Way can help. Call (714) 581-3974 today.