Food is a critical, must-have source of nourishment and energy. Without food we would not be able to perform our daily activities. Our muscles would wither, our nervous system and brains would fail. Whether we like it or not: We all need food.
What you might not know though, is that food has another important role in our lives: Comfort and entertainment. Culturally and instinctively we prepare and serve foods to comfort those who have experienced loss, to celebrate joy, or to show friendship and love. And that’s where emotional eating can cause many problems.
What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is simply the act of eating to feel better emotionally. We, as normal human beings, see food as more than just an energy source for our body. We like to enjoy our food, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Science tells us though, that some foods actually promote good feelings by causing certain “feel-good” chemical reactions in our brains. And that’s when eating can become a problem: Because some people eat to “feel better”… or because they can’t deal with strong emotions such as pain, anxiety, stress, joy, or boredom.
Emotional eaters turn to food as a source of distraction from dealing with feelings. It’s often a vicious cycle though: People eat to deal with their bad feelings, then feel bad for having done so, yet turn around and eat again to soothe the guilty feelings caused by the first round of emotional eating. Needless to say, emotional eating can lead to serious eating disorders, weight gain, obesity, and depression.
How Do I Know If I’m An Emotional Eater?
Do you turn to food when you’re not hungry, but sad, stressed, or bored? Do you think about food constantly, to the point of feeling obsessed?
Do you regularly try diets and fail – leading to guilt and further over eating? Do you think about or attempt to purge excess food by throwing up or using laxatives? Do you exercise compulsively when you think you’ve eaten too much?
If you answered yes to any of the above, there’s a good chance you’re an emotional eater and you could be endangering your health.
How Do I Overcome Emotional Eating?
The first step is recognizing and acknowledging you have the problem. Fixing the problem will take time and persistence, because you effectively need to train yourself out of bad eating habits and into good.
Since emotional eating is caused by using food as a coping strategy for emotional distress, dieting tends to just create more problems, because if you fail to stick to your eating plan you’re likely to feel quite guilty. And as an emotional eater, that guilt will only lead you to eat more.
So instead of trying to focus on what you’re eating, or how much: You’ll need to work at finding other ways to cope with negative emotions. You could try simple things like self talk, chewing gum, or getting busy with work or hobbies when emotions run high and you find yourself digging through the fridge even though you aren’t hungry. You could also try self help tapes and books, or find a support buddy to call. You might also consider getting help from a Personal Coach or Psychotherapist who deals with emotional eating.
Sometimes you’ll need the help of a professional to make these changes
As you work on replacing comfort food eating with other habits and responses, you’ll feel much better about yourself both emotionally and physically. And you’ll be well on your way to living a much healthier, slimmer life!
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