The change in season and often subsequent mood shifts can make many of us reach for more ‘comfort’ foods such as those high in fat, salt, and sugar. However, for some of us, eating based on mood is a regular occurrence year round.
Emotional eating occurs when you eat as a means of suppressing or soothing negative feelings such as anger, fear, stress, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. For many people food represents love and comfort. When you eat for emotional reasons you risk overeating, adopting unhealthy eating habits and choices, and related health issues such as weight gain, diabetes, digestive problems, and high blood pressure.
The main drawback with emotional eating is that it doesn’t actually solve the problem; it only provides a temporary band-aid to a negative feeling. Eating your feelings doesn’t erase the conflict, make the sadness go away, ease loneliness, or help manage stress. It is simply a quick fix. Emotional eating provides a short-term gain because you ‘feel better in the now’ as you associate food with comfort. It creates long-term pain because the actual problem never gets addressed, and you may end up dealing with added health or weight concerns which will only exacerbate the problem. You still don’t know how to deal with job stress, marital conflict, or anxiety when it recurs, and it will, AND you are at risk for developing health related problems from unhealthy eating habits.
Emotional hunger cannot be satisfied with food. It can only be solved when the negative feelings are addressed. In order to stop emotional eating, you must first identify the cause of your negative feelings, and then find alternative means of fulfilling your emotional needs. If you are depressed or lonely, call someone who makes you feel better. If you’re anxious, practice relaxation strategies or use your energy constructively by cleaning or working out. If you are bored, learn how to self-entertain, pick up a good book, go outside, or take part in an activity you enjoy.
If your emotional eating stems from deeper issues of deprivation, abandonment, or rejection, talk to someone about it. Left unhealed, old emotional wounds can resurface and create intolerable emotions that you try to stuff back down with food. Recognize you no longer live in your past, it doesn’t have to control you today, and you can recover from emotional wounds.
Learn to accept your feelings, even the bad ones. As the old adage goes, “this too shall pass.” Feelings are guides to your internal world. They tell you when something needs your attention. For example fear tells you to pay attention to your surroundings and whether to defend or flee, anger tells you something unfair has happened or that you’ve been attacked, sadness indicates you have experienced a loss of some sort no matter how small. Feelings are a powerful guide. They are also temporary. As part of the human condition you will not feel sad or anxious permanently. Emotions vary and change throughout the day and over time. Eating your feelings can make you feel better right now, but the negative emotions would likely also have passed on their own, and will return again. If you don’t have other coping strategies you will continue to eat your emotions. Learning to cope with and accept all your feelings will replace the need to ‘feed your feelings.’
Do you eat when you are stressed, sad, having a bad day, angry with yourself or someone else? Ask yourself; “what am I feeling, and what am I ‘feeding’ right now?” If it’s physical hunger, eating food is the right answer. If it’s emotional hunger, eating food is a temporary strategy that won’t feed the need. Feed the need you actually have with what is actually requires, and you will feel better sooner and have longer term strategies for your health and happiness. Bonne Appetit!