I often find myself reaching out or craving for certain foods, even though I have eaten a full meal. I usually don’t give into my cravings but then I keep thinking about it obsessively. This happens more when I am upset or feeling low. I have heard a lot of friends doing the same. Even kids at home tend to fill up on chips and biscuits while prepping for exams. This, my dear friends, is called Emotional Eating. It's a form of seeking comfort via food.
People who emotionally reach out for food are looking to soothe or suppress their negative feelings. This is followed by a cycle of guilt and shame and feeling as though one has no self-control. The side-effects of repeated cycles of excess eating leads to weight gain – which brings on it's own set of issues.
The reasons to turn to food for comfort may be anything ranging from work/school stress, financial worries, health or relationship issues. It affects both genders, however more seen in women. Negative emotions can leave us feeling a deep void inside. Food is the easiest add the most available form to try and fill that void by creating a false feeling of ‘fullness’ or temporary completeness.
Personally I've seen myself retreat from social support during times of emotional need and reach out for food. It's difficult to engage in activities that might otherwise relieve stress and sadness. Somehow, the difference between physical and emotional hunger is blurred. It's been proven that negative self-talk And having a negative self image has a direct relation to binge eating episodes. I've seen this in teenage girls, especially, where the fear of not“ fitting in” is very high. To feel accepted (beautiful) they need to be associated by looking thin - no thanks to the cover pages of fashion magazines which portray Underweight, unhealthy body weight on their front pages.
In some people the changing cortisol levels due to stress also leads to unhealthy cravings.
Humans must eat to live. However it's important to distinguish between emotional and through hunger cues. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several differences that might help clue you in to what you’re experiencing.
Although physical and emotional hunger may be easily confused it's important to differentiate between the to by paying attention to how or when you feel hungry as well as how you feel after eating.
It is difficult to satiate our emotional hunger since it's deep rooted and arising from our emotions, and that too the negative ones. To address and end the cycle of using food for comfort, one needs to look at their emotional needs head on. This can be done with the help of a mental health professional, who will offer a non-judgmental & safe space to pour your heart out openly.
Together, you can devise other ways to deal with the negative emotions. You could take up journaling, reading books, practicing mindfulness to decompress and relax. It takes time to make the shift to a new pattern, because the mind is tuned to reaching out for food – you will need to be consistent and experiment with variety of activities to find what you can sustain long term.
One thing that really works (for me) is finding solace in exercising. If I am walking around the block with my dog or by myself, it's hard to be negative about something as the mind switches to focusing on the path, the surroundings and getting the body to move. Many of my clients love practicing calming techniques like meditation and yoga. Many studies support mindfulness meditation as a treatment for binge eating disorder and emotional eating as well.
Simply deep breathing quietens the chaos in the mind and can help relieve anxiety and stress – the 2 main causes of emotional eating. Other ways are maintaining a food diary to log your daily food intake and you can set up yourself for a challenge by recording the emotions you are feeling at that moment.
Trying to stick to a healthy diet and paying attention to the quantity can prevent overeating. Remove all distractions or stuff that can tempt you when you are feeling vulnerable. Talk to someone if you need help.
Food is meant to nourish our bodies and help us keep fit. It's time to stop using it as a ‘reward’ or ‘punishment’ for when we are good or bad. Learning to deal with emotions, rather than trying to fill a void won’t work.
Remember…Not everything that fills the void completes the picture.