Do you ever eat something and think later, ‘why did I eat that?’ We all do it! And it is usually unconscious…
I have often caught myself in the pantry having one of those “oh well I’ve already messed up my day” kind of moments and before I could blink, I have binged on everything in sight (including those stale cookies in the back shelf that should have been binned months ago)
Emotional eating means that we eat for reasons other than hunger. There might be an emotion attached to eating, a reward for completing a task, it can also serve as a distraction from feelings like boredom or loneliness.
Emotional eating is usually driven by emotional hunger, which is urgent, persistent and for something specific such as ice cream or chocolate. In contrast physical hunger is patient, felt in the stomach and you will be satisfied with any food.
Some of the most common causes of emotional eating are stress, boredom, loneliness, suppressing emotions and habit. Unawareness, according to Pshychology Today , is one of the common contributing factors to emotional eating. ” Emotional eating can be a direct result of not being conscious of what or why you’re eating. “ Unconscious eating or eating amnesia may be used as a way to avoid uncomfortable feelings , anxiety, unhappiness or in my case loneliness (one of my main triggers was being at home alone when my husband went on business trips) .
If we want to stop emotional eating we need to bring awareness to our behaviour around food and while eating, whether this is eating an almond or raging through a bag of chips. During my emotional eating recovery process, I had to create awareness around my thoughts, emotions and behaviours with food.
Here are some common behaviours associated with emotional eating.
Eating much faster than normal
Often the subconscious mind wants to hide the fact that we are eating as a way to soothe emotions, this could be due to feeling shame but largely to distract you from the awareness that you are overeating. Your mind “switches off” as it does not want you to face reality. Eating speeds up and majority of the meal is swallowed with very little chewing.
Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
Many emotional eaters choose to keep eating even when they are full. You’ve just finished a whole plate of food, but you are back for another helping, you feel so full but can’t stop the urge to eat more. Despite feeling physically full, there is a craving for more food or even sweetness after a meal.
Emotional eating can also feel like a mindless act, something to do while watching tv, driving, or scrolling through social media for example.
Eating until feeling uncomfortably full or sick
When it comes to emotional eating, the purpose of eating is to avoid a situation or emotion, eating acts as a distraction and as long as you are eating, you don’t have to face reality. Often there is an urge to keep going even though you feel full or ill.
Feeling disgusted with yourself, depressed or very guilty afterward
Because of the perceived lack of control with food, guilt and shame usually follows episodes of emotional eating. We feel embarrassed of the quantity of food consumed or possibly ashamed that we could not stick to our eating plan. There might even be disappointment in yourself for not having more self-control.
Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by what or how much you are eating
Emotional eaters often isolate themselves during mealtimes, they feel embarrassed about their food choices, they might even hide packaging or eat healthy in front of others but indulge in comfort food in private.
Now that you are aware of some of the signs around emotional eating, you can start identifying when you are eating out of emotion or physical hunger.
Knowing the difference between physical and emotional hunger can help you identify when to start addressing emotional urges to overeat.
We often feel like comfort eating is due to a lack of disciple or not knowing enough nutritional information, however the eating behaviour is trying to protect us from an unfavourable feeling or situation.
Emotional eating in moderation is normal, it becomes a concern when emotional eating occurs on a regular basis. If you are occasionally enjoying a desert despite feeling full, there is nothing to be concerned about. However, if you feel like these behaviours frequently come up, it might be worth digging deeper to understand the origins and find ways to manage it.
If you need help understanding the causes of your emotional eating, then please contact me to make an appointment. Good luck, you have got this.