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Emotional Eating- Why do we do it?

What causes someone to eat because of their emotions?

Anything from work stress to financial worries, health issues, body image to relationship struggles may be the root cause of emotional eating.

It’s an issue that affects both sexes. But according to different studies, emotional eating is more common with women than with men.

Why food?

Negative emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void. Food is believed to be a way to fill that void and create a false feeling of “fullness” or temporary wholeness.

Other factors include:

  • retreating from social support during times of emotional need

  • not engaging in activities that might otherwise relieve stress, sadness, and so on

  • not understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger

  • using negative self-talking that’s related to bingeing episodes. This can create a cycle of emotional eating

  • changing cortisol levels in response to stress, leading to cravings.

Emotional hunger vs true hunger

Humans must eat to live. So, you may wonder how to distinguish between emotional cues and true hunger cues. There are several differences that might help clue you in to what you’re experiencing.

Physical hunger Emotional hunger

It develops slowly over time. It comes about suddenly or abruptly.

You desire a variety of food groups. You crave only certain foods.

You feel the sensation of fullness and take You may binge on food and not feel a

it as a cue to stop eating. sensation of fullness.

You have no negative feelings about eating. You feel guilt or shame about eating.

Emotional hunger isn’t easily satisfied by eating

While filling up may work in the moment, eating because of negative emotions often leaves you feeling more upset than before. This cycle typically doesn’t end until a you addresses your emotional needs.

Find other ways to cope with stress

Discovering another way to deal with negative emotions is often the first step toward overcoming emotional eating. This could mean writing in a journal, reading a book, or finding a few minutes to otherwise relax and decompress from the day.

It takes time to shift your mindset from reaching for food to engaging in other forms of stress relief, so experiment with a variety of activities to find what works for you.

If you feel whipped up in the moment take a minute to step away from the situation and breath. Really tune in to how you are feeling to see what's going on. The more you do this the more you can begin to understand your triggers and ways to pacify the situation in a healthy and positive way. If you still want the food then take a portion size, put it on a plate and sit down at a table without distraction to enjoy it and really take your time to enjoy every mouthful. Once you've enjoyed your food move on with the rest of your day without guilt or regret.

Move your body

Some people find relief in getting regular exercise. A walk around the block or a quickie yoga routine may help in particularly emotional moments.

In one study, participants were asked to engage in eight weeks of yoga. They were then assessed on their mindfulness and insightful understanding basically their understanding of themselves and of situations surrounding them.

The results showed that regular yoga may be a useful preventative measure to help diffuse emotional states such as anxiety and depression.

Try meditation

There are a variety of studies that support mindfulness meditation as a treatment for binge eating disorder and emotional eating.

Simple deep breathing is meditation that you can do almost anywhere. Sit in a quiet space and focus on your breath — slowly flowing in and out of your nostrils.

There are some great guided meditation apps or you tube have a multitude of reasources too, find someone who's voice really resonates with you.

Start a food diary

Keeping a log of what you eat and when you eat it may help you identify triggers that lead to emotional eating.

While it can be challenging, try to include everything you eat however big or small and record the emotions you’re feeling in that moment.

Also, if you choose to seek medical help about your eating habits, your food diary can be a useful tool to share with your doctor if necassery.

Take common offenders out of your pantry

Consider donating foods in your cupboards that you often reach for in moments of strife. Think high-fat, sweet or calorie-laden things, like crisps, chocolate, and ice cream. Also postpone trips to the grocery store when you’re feeling upset.

Keeping the foods you crave out of reach when you’re feeling emotional may help break the cycle by giving you time to think before consuming them. Environment is everything here so don't make it harder than it has to be.

Seek support

Resist isolation in moments of sadness or anxiety. Even a quick phone call to a friend or family member can do wonders for your mood. There are also formal support groups that can help.

Beat is a UK based charity that aims to give support to those with all forms of disordered eating. If you feel you need help regarding this issue.

Work on positive self-talk

Feelings of shame and guilt are associated with emotional eating. It’s important to work on the self-talk you experience after an episode or it may lead to a cycle of emotional eating behavior.

Instead of coming down hard, try learning from your experience. Use it as an opportunity to plan for the future.

It can take time to change your mind-set around emotional eating. However be patient with yourself, if you do need extra support do reach out or if it's more serious speak to your GP.

Much love

Coach Tula xx

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