Hunger is not always the main reason we choose to eat. Sometimes we turn to food for emotional reasons. We feel compelled to eat when we're angry, depressed, sad, or lonely. We sometimes eat to nurture, comfort, or care for unmet needs or feelings. If we turn to food to soothe ourselves only occasionally this isn't a concern. But done on a regular basis, this can lead to obesity and be a sign of compulsive eating.
Having awareness of our tendency to overeat when we're emotional is the first step to overcoming it. Take a look at these questions to see if you might be a compulsive eater:
• Do you hide food and/or look forward to eating alone?
• Do you often eat when not hungry?
• Do you think about food more than you think others do?
• Do you often eat much more in a two hour period than most people would?
• When eating this way, did you feel that you couldn't control it?
• Do you feel very guilty after overeating?
If you answered "yes" to most of the above questions, you may be suffering from compulsive overeating. The good news is that there are treatments and you can be helped. I recommend seeking the assistance of a professional, but in the meantime you should attempt to become aware of what triggers the emotional eating. Overeating can't be addressed without first identifying our true emotions.
Start by keeping a food journal for a week. Include everything you eat, details about portion sizes, times that you ate and any emotions such as feeling sad, depressed, lonely, afraid, bored, anxious, tired, or angry that you feel before, during and after eating. Make sure you write in your journal as you are eating. It's easy to forget later what you ate and what you were feeling.
At the end of the day, review your journal and look for clues as to what prompted you to eat. One of my clients noticed that she always tended to eat after she got off the phone with her mother. Initially she wrote "angry" on her journal but upon thinking about it, she realized that what she actually felt was rejection. It dawned on her that the need she really had was to have a loving conversation with her mom. This unrealized and unmet need led her to reach to food for comfort. When she came to terms with this (and some other emotions) she started making healthier eating choices.
You might also start a separate diary that includes your feelings, thoughts, and any insights you have. The journal can help you identify your "triggers" so that you can help yourself choose other coping strategies besides food.
Maria Faires, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer, Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist and freelance writer based out of Sammamish, WA. Maria is considered to be one of Western Washington's premier fitness and nutrition experts. As the owner of Active Nutrition Fitness & Consulting, Maria provides highly personalized nutrition services, personal training and preventative and post-rehabilitative fitness programming in her private training studio. She also provides Skype, phone and online nutrition counseling and training for remote clients. Maria leads the industry in the development of cutting edge fitness and nutrition techniques as well as innovative and unique fitness programming. Maria expertly designs every workout, nutrition plan and provides the personal attention, extra motivation, support and accountability that helps her clients achieve optimal performance and health. Contact or read more about Maria at www.myactivenutrition.com.