Emotions and eating go hand in hand. Emotions can cause us to eat, and eating can stir our emotions. This connection is especially hard for many during the holiday season, and if you are someone who “eats your feelings” or can’t stop stress eating, here’s a closer look at why emotional eating happens and some strategies to help you stop.
WHY DO WE EAT IN RESPONSE TO CERTAIN EMOTIONS?
Certain emotions, usually negative ones like stress, anger or sadness, trigger the release of the hormone cortisol. This hormone is responsible for enhancing our appetite and telling the brain that we crave sugary and fatty foods. Therefore, an extra secretion of cortisol encourages people to overeat.
Psychologically, whenever we experience sadness, loneliness or anger, we often find ourselves trying to escape or avoid them. Many of us use food as a coping mechanism because it brings us immediate pleasure and can mask those nasty emotions, if only for a moment.
Some people can cheer themselves up with just one chocolate bar. However, for many others, one chocolate bar is not enough to suppress their negative emotions, and they find themselves binging on a variety of foods.
Many factors are responsible for some people taking emotional eating too far, including personality traits and genetics. All these factors interact to cause people to emotionally overeat.
HOW CAN THIS HABIT BE STOPPED?
1. Identify the culprit emotions
Many emotions can cause you to seek the comfort of food, including stress, anxiety, anger and boredom. The first thing you should do is identify which emotions you’re struggling with.
Consider keeping a journal for a week or two. Describe in detail the types of emotions you have experienced during the day, why you experienced them, what you wanted to do about them and whether they caused you to overeat. Over the course of a week, you should have a good idea which emotions are and are not responsible for your overeating.
2. Feed your emotions with something else
Find other, healthier ways to fill the void. The alternative activities should be pleasurable, realistic and straightforward.
Some alternatives to emotional eating may be calling a friend, watching a comedy, reading a book, going for a walk, getting a massage, taking a hot bath or meditating.
3. Make lifestyle changes
Many lifestyle changes can help improve your mood, enhance your wellbeing and reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions.
Some evidence-based lifestyle changes to work on include regular physical activity, sufficient sleep quality and quantity, limiting alcohol consumption and spending as much time with loved ones as possible.
Emotional eating stems from feeling out of control. This powerlessness often causes us to avoid our emotions entirely. We need to feel and accept our emotions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. This can be scary, I know. But once you recognize, accept and embrace your core emotions, you won’t need to desperately try to escape them through food.
To overcome this challenge, you must become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This will enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger overeating.