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Emotional Eating: Why It Happens

Just about everyone engages in emotional eating at one time or another in life. The misconception is that people only eat when they are depressed or stressed out. In reality, there are a variety of emotional reasons for eating. You may eat because you feel happy, sad, mad, stressed or bored.

Background and Research

Anytime you reach for food and it is not because you are hungry, there is an emotional reason behind it. It could be that you are at a party and food is a way to enjoy your experience. It may be that you are a guest in someone’s home and eating is a way to put yourself and your guest at ease. You may be at home feeling bored with nothing to do and you reach for food because it is a way to pass the time. Or, you may be sad or angry and it’s a way to make yourself feel better and get your mind off of things.

Everyone has their own comfort foods. Cookies, ice cream, candy, pizza, or French fries are just a few examples. Studies show that the types of comfort foods you choose are linked to your particular mood. For example, happy people are drawn to steak or pizza. Those who are sad tend to eat more sweets, such as cookies and ice cream. When people are bored, they eat potato chips.

Ways to Stop Emotional Eating

You know you are engaged in emotional eating when you eat despite lack of hunger or when you cannot stop eating despite being full. When you catch yourself in those moments, the trick is to ask yourself why you are eating. Keeping a food journal will help to track any patterns. You may find that every Thursday when you meet up with a particular friend, you overeat. You can ask yourself whether that particular relationship is causing you a great deal of stress. Or, maybe eating is just a way that you two enjoy your time together. In that case, you could think of other ways to spend time together other than eating.

Regular check-ins with yourself about whether or not you are really hungry are good opportunities to think of other activities to replace emotional eating. For example, if you find that you are eating because you are feeling sad, other alternatives to deal with your emotions are going for a walk, writing in a journal, calling a supportive friend or reading an enlightening book or article. If food is a way to deal with your anger or frustration, the realization is a good starting point for dealing with the core of the emotion. What is causing your stress? Do you need to have a conversation with someone? Do you need to change something in your life to avoid ongoing stress?

Emotional eating can become a problem if it is the most common way that you deal with emotional problems. It can result in an overconsumption of calories, which leads to weight gain. Simply checking in with yourself on a regular basis to gauge whether you are really hungry will help you to address the core of the issue in ways that do not involve food.

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