Emotional eating: what is it and how can you stop?
For some people, eating is something that is done purely to fuel their body. Emotions are not involved and while food is enjoyed, these people stop when they’re full and don’t feel the need to overindulge. For others, this simply isn’t the case. Food is eaten when emotions arise to either comfort or punish themselves.
What’s behind emotional eating?
Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to be overweight or underweight to struggle with food, there are many people at a perfectly healthy weight who are constantly thinking about food. Whether you avoid full meals and pick at snacks all day, starve yourself on diet foods then binge, or even eat in private because you are supposed to be on a diet – you are not alone.
Somewhere along the way food has gained power over you, causing you to distort your relationship with it. This can happen due to issues from your childhood, a preconceived notion of beauty or other psychological triggers.
Eating for comfort
For many people, eating certain foods is a pleasurable experience that sets off feel-good hormones and makes you feel safe. If your Grandmother gave you a bar of chocolate every time you went to visit, it is understandable that in times of sadness you would turn to chocolate to comfort you.
The problem with this is that food wasn’t designed to comfort us. It is designed to keep our body fit and healthy. The aftermath of comfort eating often triggers feelings of guilt and self-hatred – which can then set off even more comfort eating.
Rather than turning to food as a coping mechanism, you’ll need to find another way of coping that is less damaging and change the way you think when you use foods in this way.
Eating for punishment
On the flipside of this, some people overeat as a form of self-punishment. Thinking they’re not good enough or getting angry with themselves can provoke a reaction to self-harm by eating excessive amounts of food. In these instances food is often looked at as the enemy – something to hate and use as a weapon.
How to change
The first thing to ask yourself is, are you ready to change? As humans, we don’t typically like change and often emotional issues can stand in the way of change even if we really want to.
Try to identify underlying conflicts between what you want and what you’re currently doing. Understanding the root cause of your behaviour is the first step to changing it.
Keeping an emotional food diary will also help you keep track of your habits and can help you start to change your thinking. Whenever a trigger to emotional eating occurs try to come up with a new thought and write this in your food diary, over time these thoughts will start to trickle into your subconscious to cement the change.
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