Emotional eating is something we all do.
Grabbing that box of chocolates or pint of ice cream after a break up or fight, finding distraction from that project by finishing off the office candy jar or even just going for that take-out pizza after a fight with a friend.
But what happens when it’s not just an occasional habit but something you find yourself dealing with several times a week? We all have our coping mechanisms – for some it’s alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise – maybe food is yours.
Let’s first discuss the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.
Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be postponed.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and feels urgent, you absolute have to eat right now.
Physical hunger can be satisfied with any kind of food whereas emotional hungry usually calls for a specific craving such as pizza, chocolate, ice cream – you find yourself wanting foods high in sugar, fat and salt.
When you’re truly hungry you will reach that point of feeling full and satisfied once you’ve eaten enough. With emotional eating you will find yourself uncomfortably full, stuffed even.
After finishing a meal that you were hungry for you feel satisfied, with an emotional eating episode, also called a ‘binge’ you will feel guilty, angry at yourself.
A question you can ask yourself when the urge to eat comes up is ‘would I go for white fish and broccoli right now?’ If the answer is yes you are definitely hungry!
But let’s say you are not hungry for food, if hunger isn’t the problem food won’t solve it.
So what are you really hungry for? What are you really craving?
When you are used to using food as a coping mechanism and this is the first time you realize this – be prepared to get uncomfortable.
Looking at your true feelings is very confrontational and not a fun thing to do, but then again – how fun is the guilt for overeating and your jeans no longer fitting you?
Here’s a few questions I want you to ask yourself the next time you find yourself ready to finish off your pantry.
What need do you have that isn’t being met? Are you feeling lonely? Sad? Depressed? Angry? Hurt?
What are you really looking for? Are you looking for safety? Comfort? Control? Confirmation? Distraction?
Write down your feelings. Journaling can be very therapeutic and it will help you realize what is causing stress in your life. It doesn’t stop there, what are you going to do to change these issues?
Be true to yourself, find out what is making you unhappy and what you can do to change this.
Next step: we’re going to make a list of activities that you can fall back on the next time you feel the need to ‘eat your feelings’. Examples include:
-take a hot bath
-go for a walk
-go for a walk or run
-give yourself a manicure
-read your favourite book or magazine.
-call a friend to talk about your feelings
Anything goes here, just make sure to have that list close by when the next cravings hits!
The subject of emotional eating is an extensive one but for now I hope I’ve provided you with a few simple tips to deal with using food a coping mechanism!
If you find your problems bigger than you can fix on your own it might be a good idea to reach for outside help.
PS. Having the occasional stress cupcake is nothing to worry about!