Ever feel a strong craving for chocolate just when you’ve had a fight with your partner, have an exam coming up or are facing some other stressor? We have all been there! Emotional eating is a way of dealing with emotions by turning to food for comfort. The problems come if this emotional eating remains unchecked, resulting in overeating or bingeing. The reality is that you are eating for temporary comfort, not to find a solution. After you are done eating, your life is exactly the same as it was before except now you may feel guilty or ashamed for letting yourself slip. This article will help you overcome your emotional eating by turning to other methods of coping with stress.
There are many reasons why we connect our emotions with food including childhood, hormones and inattention. Dealing with problems by eating can stem from when you were a child; if you fell over and hurt yourself a parent or grandparent would ‘make it all better’ by giving you sweet treats. Your mind will then have registered the pleasant memory of sweets making you feel better. Your achievements might have also been rewarded with food, leading to further emotional links.
Unfortunately, the body’s natural response to stress can be to reach for food. Stress increases the level of cortisol in your body, making you crave food to boost energy levels so that you are ready to tackle the perceived danger or to escape it (the “fight or flight” mechanism). Obviously food which gives us a sudden energy boost will tend to be high in sugar and a sugar rush will also increase feelings of wellbeing.
Mindless eating because of boredom can often lead to overeating since you are unaware of how much you have eaten until it is too late and you have reached the bottom of the packet. Food can also be a way of filling the emotional emptiness you are experiencing, especially if you are feeling lonely whilst it seems everyone else is out having the time of their lives.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about dealing with emotional eating is to work out the things that cause you to reach for food and try to avoid them. If this is not possible you need to find ways to help you deal with these situations that don’t include food.
Things that can help with stress eating need to help you to relax so anything that allows you to chill out (without alcohol since this won’t help weight loss either!) Try meditation, yoga, Pilates, a long soak in the bath or even a hobby you enjoy. You can also try going for a walk as any activity which gets your body moving reduces cortisol levels and increases levels of ‘happy hormones’ (It also means you add to your overall activity levels for that day.)
If your problem is mindless eating in front of the TV it’s important that you don’t get hunger pangs to start with. Make sure you eat regularly so that your stomach never feels completely empty. If you must snack in front of the TV make sure it’s chopped vegetables such as carrots, cucumber, peppers or celery and not biscuits, cakes or crisps. To ensure you don’t have unhealthy snacks to hand, get them out of the house so you have to get to the shop to fetch them. You will be less inclined to interrupt your TV watching long enough to go shopping but if you still feel the need to, walk to the shops. Once you have your snack, focus on eating it and nothing else so you can fully enjoy it and not eat more than you intended.
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Watch our video below on emotional hunger