Picture this: You hit the snooze button one too many times, had a last-minute project thrown at you at work, and then sat in an hour of evening traffic.
Finally home, you breathe a sigh of relief, head into the kitchen, and decide you deserve a snack after the day you’ve had. Maybe you reach for a few crackers, then a bit of chocolate.
Before you know it, you’ve munched your way through the entire kitchen without eating a proper meal. You’re stuffed, ashamed, and wondering what the heck just happened – WTF?!
It’s called emotional eating, and in a nutshell, it is eating for any other reason besides actual physical hunger, fuel, or nourishment.
3 Trademarks of Emotional Eating
- Binging – usually on high-sugar and carbohydrate-rich comfort foods (i.e. junk food). How many people do you know who reach for avocado and apples when they’re upset?
- Mindlessly eating – you’re not aware of what or how much you’re eating or how those foods are making your body feel
- Eating to numb, soothe, please, relax, or reward yourself, i.e. “I had a bad day and deserve it” kind of thinking. Eating during these times provides temporary relief, but often leaves you feeling worse than where you started!
I used to self medicate with food. I did not know it at the time. I was grieving my mother’s loss, and I used food to distract my self from fear, sadness, loneliness. I ate till my stomach hurt and then I cried feeling shame and remorse because I could not control my appetite.
The trouble with emotional eating is it overrides your body’s natural hunger cycle and can promote things like:
- weight gain
- an increase in your risk for inflammation and chronic disease
- create an unhealthy relationship between you and food
- lead to more dangerous types of disordered eating
What Triggers Emotional Eating?
Even though it’s called “emotional eating” because people often reach for food to cope with their feelings, there are a lot of other non-hunger reasons that can prompt you to eat.
Some common non-hunger reasons include:
- Uncomfortable emotions, like anger, guilt, fear, and sadness
- Need to feel pleasure and/or comfort
Six (6) Tips to Help You Get a Handle on Emotional Eating…for good!
If any of those scenarios sound familiar, know that you’re not alone! Emotional eating affects a lot of people at one point or another.
Want to know what you can do to stop emotional eating in its tracks? Here are 6 great tips!
- Have a non-food outlet to process uncomfortable feelings
- Try journaling, exercising, or talking to a trusted friend or counselor
- Manage stress
- Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, getting enough sleep, and not taking on more than you can realistically handle can help decrease stress levels.
- Recognize boredom
- Call a friend, take a walk, pick up a book, or tackle a DIY project or hobby you’ll enjoy when you know boredom is likely to strike.
- Practice self-care
- Pamper yourself with a bubble bath, manicure, or curl up with a good book – whatever makes you feel good!
- Practice mindful eating
- Avoid distractions at meals. Your focus should be on the food in front of you.
- Eat slowly, chew, and savor each bite. This helps give your body time to receive the signal from your brain when it’s full.
- Stop eating when you feel full.
- Eat a balanced diet
- The majority of your diet should be nutrient-dense whole foods.
- Allow for occasional treats and indulgences so you don’t feel deprived.
- Include protein, fiber, and healthy fat at each meal to promote satiety.
Chocolate Chip Almond Butter Energy Balls
These energy balls feel like an indulgent snack, but are made from whole food ingredients and contain a bit of protein, healthy fat, and fiber to keep you fuller longer.
1 cup natural almond butter (or other natural nut butter)
½ cup coconut flour
½ cup dark chocolate chips
¼ cup maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
- Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, stirring until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 1 tbsp of water at a time to help the mixture come together.
- Scoop 1 tablespoon of the mixture and use your hands to roll into a ball. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
- Store energy balls in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.
Study: Current Diabetes Reports, 2018 — Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity
Study: Journal of Health Psychology, 2015 — Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating