You know that feeling when you come home exhausted from work and all you want to do is dive into a bag of chips?
When you’ve had a rough day and all you can think about is the ice cream sitting in your freezer?
When you go to the movies and the aroma of buttered popcorn makes it impossible to skip the concession stand?
These are all examples of emotional eating. ‘Emotional eating’ can be defined as eating due to an emotion rather than hunger. Many think that emotional eating only occurs when someone is feeling sad, but it can actually be associated with any emotion--such as joy, anger, boredom, frustration, excitement, etc. We may also associate certain activities with eating, such as popcorn at the movies, even if we are not necessarily hungry.
What is the big deal?
Treating yourself after an accomplishment or to celebrate a special occasion is not necessarily a bad thing. Food is a huge part of our culture and has the potential to contribute to the happiness we experience in our lives. The issue is when it becomes our main emotional coping mechanism. Throughout our lives, we have learned that food has the ability to provide a sense of comfort, so it tends to be our go-to source when we feel lonely, sad, anxious, angry, or stressed. This comfort is short-lived, however, and the emotions we were struggling with do not go away when we finish that last spoonful of ice cream. In fact, it might lead to even worse feelings of guilt or defeat. Ultimately, the issue is that emotional eating keeps us from discovering other healthier and more productive ways to cope with our feelings.
What can I do?
The first thing to do is identify your own personal emotional eating triggers. This may be difficult to do in the beginning, but it is necessary to distinguish between emotional hunger versus physical hunger. It takes practice to distinguish between the two, but remember that physical hunger comes on gradually and stops when you are full. Emotional eating, on the other hand, can occur suddenly and continues on even after you are full.
Tips to help you stop emotional eating:
• Keep a food journal or use a smartphone tracking app (Watch for Orriant’s app coming soon). By taking the time to write things down, it can help you be more conscious about your food intake.
• Go for a walk outside. The fresh air and exercise can help to improve your mood.
• Clean the house or do yard work. Busy work like this allows you time to think and sort through emotions.
• Talk to family members or a friend. Talking things through with someone else can give you a new perspective.
• Listen to music, play a game, take a bubble bath, or do any other activity that brings you joy. These activities can develop into your new emotional coping mechanisms.