From those cookies you used to bake with your granny to the pizza your parents would buy you if you behaved, food can hold a lot of nostalgia, bringing us comfort in the bleakest of moments. But turning to takeaways, sugary sweets and high-fat snacks as a form of stress relief could be a sign of emotional eating.
With this coping strategy, people use food, either subconsciously or consciously, to fill an emotional need rather than an empty stomach in an attempt to make themselves feel better. Symptoms include eating even when you’re not hungry, feeling powerless around food and consuming more during periods of anxiety or depression.
While there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to something tasty as a reward or pick-me-up, opening the fridge on autopilot whenever you feel overwhelmed is a vicious cycle that only leads to more negativity. However, by using the three simple steps below to tackle emotional eating head-on, you’ll be able to fight cravings and discover healthier ways to satisfy your feelings.
1. Discern between Emotional and Physical Hunger
Sometimes emotional hunger is so powerful, it’s easily mistaken for a genuine need to eat, but there are ways to tell the two apart. Your body controls physical hunger, making your stomach growl or your blood sugar levels drop, causing dizziness when it’s time to eat a meal.
On the other hand, your brain controls emotional hunger, hitting you with an urgent and insatiable desire to stuff yourself with junk food to block out an uncomfortable feeling the mind doesn’t want to face. Recognising this crucial difference will give you more awareness of emotional eating when it surfaces and help you control it in the long run.
2. Identify Your Emotional Eating Triggers
Although several emotions trigger this response, such as boredom, sadness, loneliness, fear and resentment, the most common culprit is stress, something that’s incredibly hard to avoid in our chaotic whirlwind of a world. When we experience a stressful situation, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol that causes an increase in appetite and an urge for salty, sweet or fried foods to give us a burst of energy.
As emotional eating tends to be an automatic reaction, pausing for a second before reaching for the nearest snack and examining how you feel allows you to take back control. One way of doing this is by logging what you eat, either in a notepad or on a mobile app like MyFitnessPal, and writing down the emotions running through your head at that moment. Over time, you’ll be able to identify the patterns behind your comfort eating — maybe it’s social situations that send you into a frenzy or relationships at work that cause waves of panic.
3. Find Alternative Outlets for Your Emotions
Once you can pinpoint your stressors, it’s time to find new, healthier ways to manage your feelings. Give some of these a go:
- Practise other forms of self-care, for instance, lighting a few scented candles and indulging in a leisurely soak in the tub or taking the dog for a walk in the great outdoors.
- Reach out to friends and family when you feel plagued with doubt; after all, a problem shared is a problem halved.
- Expend nervous energy by running on the spot, dancing to the radio or taking a few deep breaths.
- Try hypnotherapy! Whether you use an online video or contact an experienced hypnosis professional, like those at the Hypnosis and Therapy Centre, this safe and effective treatment can rewire the way you perceive food and give you a whole new outlook on life.