The reason why we have to diet and the reason why diets fail is because we don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger. Many of us also turn to food to relieve stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom which is also called as emotional eating. And after eating, we feel even worse. Not only does the original emotional issue remain, but we also feel guilty for overeating.
Emotional eating means turning to food for comfort, not because you’re hungry.
You might reach for a box of ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day at work. That bag of potato chips and those chocolate chip cookies may appeal when you feel bad. But the relief doesn’t last, and it can make you overeat and gain weight.
Occasionally using food as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real sentiment or dilemma is never addressed.
Ways to find out if our hunger is emotional hunger:
Emotional hunger can be strong, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues that can help us differentiate between physical and emotional hunger.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually.
Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips, whereas in physical hunger you know what you are eating.
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
Identify your emotional triggers:
- Stuffing emotions
- Boredom or feelings of emptiness
- Childhood habits
- Social influences
- When you notice that you are about to eat because you don’t feel good, look for healthy things you could do until the urge to eat passes. For instance:
- Talk to a friend.
- Read a book or magazine, or listen to music.
- Go for a walk or jog.
- Meditate or do deep breathing exercises.
- Play a game.
- Do housework, laundry, or yard work.
- Write an email.
Sometimes developing alternative habits or distracting yourself from eating can be a good option. Keep a food diary. Write down what and when you eat, and what thoughts or emotions you have at each meal or snack. You may find patterns. Follow mindful eating. Mindful eating is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between your triggers and your actions.