Emotional eating can feel very satisfying, but it is not always healthy. Therefore, you should know what to do instead of emotional eating. You must be aware of some tips and tricks to stop emotional eating. Before we do that, let’s understand what exactly is emotional eating.
1. What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating, as the name suggests, means eating when you are emotional. You generally go get a bite when you are feeling hungry. But emotional eating has nothing to do with physical hunger. You might not even have an appetite, but you might be feeling really bad. As a result, you will go to eat a cupcake because it makes you feel better. This is a result of emotional hunger.
Emotional eating is typically a tendency to eat ‘comfort foods’ – foods that are high in calories and fats, as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions, generally unpleasant ones. Traditionally, researchers agree that emotional eating refers to eating or overeating when experiencing negative emotions.
However, one can also have cravings for unhealthy food when they are really happy.
Have you ever downed tubs of ice cream after a breakup? Or have you ordered your favorite meal when you got a promotion? Then, you have engaged in ‘emotional eating’.
2. When Does Emotional Eating Turn Unhealthy?
Emotional eating is not necessarily always unhealthy. If you end up emotionally eating only once in a while, it is not going to be a problem. However, if you are doing it regularly enough for it to become a habit, then it can be problematic.
For example, every time you feel upset, you eat pizza. As the time goes on, you see your health deteriorating. You find it hard to stay at a healthy weight. Or you find it hard to lose weight. Maybe, you just keep putting on weight.
It is also possible that you start suffering from nutritional deficiencies. This is because comfort foods generally have lower nutritional values. Trying to satiate your emotional hunger with junk food all the time will turn you into an emotional eater. Instead, you should focus on honoring your physical hunger.
Regularly consuming your comfort food can lead to many physical ailments, such as obesity. This might be because emotional eating can act as a barrier to healthy weight loss. Some other harmful health effects of emotional eating are increased blood pressure, low levels of sodium, etc.
Emotional eating is also related to emotional and mental difficulties. In the year 2018, a research study was conducted to understand if “emotional eating types are associated with unique psychological and physical health correlates”. The results revealed that eating as a reaction to feeling depressed, anxious, or bored, is related to difficulties in emotion regulation, overall psychological well-being, and symptoms of eating disorders.
2.1 What is Binge Eating?
It is an eating disorder in which a person regularly consumes huge amounts of food. Such a person feels like they are unable to stop eating. They feel a loss of control.
According to research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, binge eating is closely related to emotional eating. Interestingly, emotions in general are closely related to eating. People with binge eating disorder are more likely to eat as a result of experiencing uncomfortable emotions.
However, emotional eating is not as serious as an actual disorder. It is not even harmful all the time. Emotional eating can provide some much-needed comfort in a hard time, and not cause any serious issues. On the other hand, those who suffer from eating disorders like these might also have serious mental disorders like depression.
2.2 Stress Eating
Stress eating is a specific form of emotional eating.
It refers to turning to your comfort food when you are stressed.
For example, you are waiting to hear from colleges. You are not sure you will get in. In that time of feeling stressed, you try to satisfy all your food cravings as a coping mechanism. You stress eat. Doing so might provide temporary comfort. It will, however, become troublesome if it becomes a frequent occurrence.
3. What to do Instead of Emotional Eating?
Think of this scenario: Your partner has not called you back in a few hours. You are sitting alone in your room. The thought that maybe you have done something wrong keeps wandering in your head. You might even feel anger. Eventually, you cannot deal with this. Your stressful emotions lead you to believe that you need to eat. So, you eat the muffins that you had got for a birthday party.
Later, you feel guilty. After all, you had been trying to focus on consuming healthy foods. You also have to go buy more muffins for your friend’s birthday. A few minutes later, your partner calls to tell you that their phone died. They couldn’t find the charger so it took them some time to call you back. Now, you feel relief. But you also feel bad.
As an emotional eater, you have just created more troubles for yourself. Now, this is an exaggerated scenario. This is not how it works all the time. But it creates a basic picture in your head, right?
Here is a list of positive changes you can make to stop emotional eating.
3.1 Go for a Walk
Think of the same scenario: Your partner hasn’t called you back. But, instead of sitting in your room, you go for a walk. The physical exercise of walking will help you feel good. Endorphins will be released during the exercise, which will reduce stress.
You will also feel as if you have made a healthier choice. As a result, you will feel better about yourself. You can even add deep breathing in your walks. It will help you feel calm.
3.2 Listen to Music
Music can improve your mood and decrease stress. You can blast your speakers inside your room. An even better option is using earphones to listen to music while on your walk.
Combining walking with music will make you feel twice as better. Doing so will help you get the advantages of both music and walking. The basic idea here is using music to distract your mind from the negative emotion.
3.3 Talk to a Friend
When you are experiencing uncomfortable emotions, don’t look towards food. Instead, call your friend. Meeting them is an even better option. Something as simple as just sharing your problems with a loved one will make you feel heard.
Your friends might have good advice to offer you, which could help to make you feel better. You can even go play video games with them. Or maybe some outdoor game. Just sharing this nice moment with your friend might make you feel good.
Your friends provide you with social support, which is essential to your physical and mental health. This has even been proven by research published in an international journal.
3.4 Write Down What You’re Feeling
When you feel any kind of emotions that urge you to turn towards your favorite foods for comfort, try to write it down. This will help you identify what exactly are the things that trigger emotional eating in you. Once you have figured out what emotions and feelings make you crave your favorite foods, it will be easier to deal with them.
Also, the simple act of writing will help to release and control negative feelings. It will make you feel lighter. Once you are done writing, you might realize that the moment of strong emotions has passed. And you don’t feel those intense cravings for your favorite food anymore.
3.5 Maintain a Food Diary to Improve Eating Habits
Keeping track of what you’re eating will help you control mindless eating. It will also work as a nutrition guide. This is because you will be able to keep a watch on yourself if you frequently opt for unhealthy food.
A food diary can also help you with weight loss by helping you identify your food choices.
3.6 Talk to an Expert
It is possible for emotional eating to be severely harmful to your health. If you are worried that might be you, please consider talking to a mental health professional. They are trained to guide people in situations like these. They will also help you make sense of what you are going through.
In the process, you will gain control of your eating habits. You will also learn how to navigate your feelings better. An expert will help you break free from emotional eating.
3.7 Opt for Healthy Foods
Listening to your emotions completely while choosing which food to eat is not the best idea for your body. But it is not easy to choose a salad over caramel popcorn. So, you should start making smaller changes. For example, opt for unbuttered popcorn over buttered ones. Doing so will decrease the calories and fats of the food by a lot. This is why it can even assist you in weight loss, assuming that is your goal. Such small changes can be incredibly beneficial for your body.
Opting for unhealthy options when it comes to food is not always bad. It is when emotions come into play that it becomes complicated. And even then, it isn’t a problem until you make it into a habit. When dealing with immense sadness, a slice of cake as your food choice of the night, can soothe you.
Eating your emotions and feelings is fine sometimes, but it isn’t always the best path to take. If it is causing any kind of serious issues in your life, you should be aware of things you can do to help. And you should know that there is no shame in approaching an expert if that is what you need!
As an avid reader, Ruchi Meghwal loves to discuss and write about books even more than she loves reading them. Driven by the emotions elicited by her favourite fictional characters and daydreams, she has always been passionate, to the point that she started writing poetry at the age of 16.
As a 22 year old, with a bachelors degree in Psychology in her hand, she has redirected most of her passion towards becoming a mental health professional.