Emotional Eating

smiling woman holding pack of food inside grocery store

Have you ever looked down at an empty bag of malteasers and ask “Did I just eat all that?” Or have you ever demolished your favourite takeaway and wonder “why do I still not feel satisfied?” We have all done it, at one stage or another. In order for us to change our behaviours we must first look at the reasons why.

Hunger is a desire to eat something. It is usually accompanied with a lack of energy, a grumbling in the stomach and for some moodiness (HANGRY)! This type of hunger is physical hunger, it is a message from your brain that you lack energy to function effectively.

There is another type of hunger…emotional hunger in which your body mistakes hunger for a desire for something else. Stress is one of the main causes of emotional eating. Stress comes in many forms sometimes from external pressures e.g. family, work and internal forces e.g. feeling out of control, wanting to look a certain way. Many take comfort in the short term satisfaction found in food. Does this sound like you?

Do you want to learn how to take control of your eating habits?

Here are some tips to get you started:

Find a quiet place with no distractions; put down the phone, turn off the tv, hide from the children! Take some deep breaths and ask yourself am I hungry? If you know you are not hungry, i.e. you have just eaten a balanced meal then figure out the cause. Remember it takes 20 minutes for your body to recognise that it is full.

Recognise there is an emotion driving this hunger, it may be something stressful at work, it may be you feel like you have lost control over a project, you may be worried about a relationship. Do not rush to the same conclusion everytime; just because last time you overindulged on junk food was because you had a fight with your bestie doesn’t mean this is what is happening the next time.

Do not judge or shame yourself. Everybody goes through these feelings. It is about recognising your emotions and finding ways to overcome them without having to distract yourself through food. Write down what way you are feeling and what food you are craving. Perhaps you are feeling stressed and you want to lose yourself in a bag of malteasers or maybe you are feeling lonely and want to be comforted by ice-cream. When you write down your emotions and how you want to respond you will start to see a pattern. You will begin to recognise triggers and be better prepared to deal with them.

Take control of the situation. Allow yourself to feel what you were feeling. Was it something that happened just now or did something happen earlier in the day that you only have time to process now? Can you do anything to change the situation right now? Is it inside or outside your control? If you cannot control is worrying going to help/fix the situation?

Try some breathing exercises. Take deep breaths and exhale slowly. Imagine the emotion you are feeling is a certain colour, e.g. loneliness feels cold pick blue. Imagine with each breath that colour is fading away. Imagine each breath is pushing the cold, blue feeling out of your body. Recognise that the colour has changed to something else. It won’t happen straight away but with practice you can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, and lack of control.