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Emotional Eating


Do you have a favourite comfort food that seems to make you feel better when you are feeling a bit down?  Comfort eating is normal if done once in a while but too much can cross over into being emotional eating.  Find out exactly what emotional eating is, how it can affect you, and how to break the cycle.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is defined as eating food in response to your emotions rather than your body’s hunger signals.  Some people will eat when they are anxious, sad, or confused, while others may eat in order to avoid their problems.  This is where the term “comfort eating” comes from, as people eat foods that make them feel better.  Usually these foods are high in fat or high in calories, such as chips, cakes, chocolate, and so forth.

Recognising Emotional Eating

The occasional bout of emotional eating is normal – we all comfort eat in times of stress.  However, emotional eating becomes a problem when people start to use it as a means of coping with their problems and do it on a regular basis.  If you do any of the following, you may be an emotional eater:

• eat without realising that you’re doing it
• feel guilt or shame after eating
• eat alone due to feeling embarrassed about what you’re eating or in strange places (such as in your car outside your house)
• eat after something unpleasant, even if you’re not hungry
• crave certain foods when you are upset
• crave food because of outside factors such as advertising
• eat because you have nothing better to do
• eat when you’re not hungry
• eat rapidly
• eat until your are uncomfortably full

The Problems with Emotional Eating

The main problem with emotional eating is that it sabotages your weight.  If you find that you are having problems with your weight, learning how to manage your emotions without using food is very important.  Over time, emotional eating can also have an adverse effect on your health.  In the end, instead of feeling better, your problems actually begin to multiply.

Stopping Emotional Eating

However, there is something that you can do to take control and end emotional eating.  Firstly, you have to identify your triggers – that is, the things that cause you to comfort eat in the first place.  This could be an argument with a loved one, a particularly bad day at work, a bad hair day, bad news, and so forth.  If you can identify your triggers you can begin to stop using food as a “cure”.  You also need to learn how to recognise your body’s hunger signals.  You need to get into the habit of eating when your body tells you that it needs more food.

Also limit your trigger foods.  These foods are the foods that you binge on.  The best way to do this is to stop keeping them in your home.  Resist the temptation to throw them into your trolley in the first place.  By not having them in your home, you may be able to stop the bout of emotional eating that would otherwise take place.  Don’t skip meals.  You may think that you are helping your weight loss efforts but this just means that you are more likely to eat too much later, as you will be hungrier and more tempted to eat “bad” foods.

Finally, to help stop emotional eating, you need to find an alternative.  This should be something that makes you relax and feel better about whatever is going on.  Some suggestions include reading a book, watching a movie, having a long bath, going for a walk, seeing a friend, doing some yoga, or meditation.

Accept Setbacks

It is important to remember that you may trip up from time to time.  This is only natural as you are trying to break a habit – some may even say an addiction.  If you do trip up, give yourself some leeway.  Don’t feel like you’ve failed.  Accept that you have had a setback and start again the following day.  Keep positive and have your eye on the goal – you will break the cycle.


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