Emotional Eating

If everyone ate food solely for the purpose of covering their energy needs, then nobody would be overweight. The problem is that most people don’t eat food just for fuel, they eat it for any number of emotional reasons: it’s the focus of a social gathering, it’s part of a ritual such as watching TV, it’s associated with love or caring or it just (temporarily) makes them feel better.

If you eat mindlessly and impulsively, without thinking about why you’re eating, then there’s a very real danger of putting on unwanted, excess weight. According to Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, you make about 200 decisions about food every day, ranging from what to have for breakfast, to whether to eat every time you pass a tray of sweets at work. If you make these decisions emotionally, then the impact this has on your weight and health over time can be massive.

How to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger

1. Physical hunger builds up gradually with a rumble in the stomach, usually about 3 hours after the last meal or snack. Emotional hunger can happen suddenly at any time.
2. With physical hunger, you can wait if you have to. Emotional hunger seems to demand immediate satisfaction.
3. Physical hunger is usually a general desire for food. Emotional hunger is usually a desire for a specific food.
4. After eating for physical hunger, you get a sense of satisfaction. After eating for emotional reasons you feel guilty.

Strategy to stop emotional eating

1. Become aware of your eating behaviours (don’t eat mindlessly, or as an automatic response to stress).
2. Watch out for your emotional triggers (stress, loneliness, boredom, frustration, etc.) and prepare defences for them, e.g. get rid of all unhealthy snacks from your office, and bring in healthy alternatives.
3. Ask yourself why you’re eating something and how you will feel after you’ve eaten it.
4. Develop alternate coping mechanisms e.g. social support, meditation / yoga to help deal with stress, relaxing music and bath, go for a walk, remove yourself from the source of the stress, take a powernap instead of loading up on sugar when tired.
5. Establish new beliefs about food and the right reasons for eating, e.g. Food is fuel.

This article is a summary of the chapter on emotional eating from The Body Fat Solution by Tom Venuto.