By Bob Otieno
Emotional eating is when people use food to deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger. We have all been there, finishing a whole bag of chips out of boredom or downing cookie after cookie while cramming for a big test. But when done, emotional eating can affect weight, health, and well-being.
Not many of us make the connection between eating and our feelings. But understanding what drives emotional eating can help one take steps to change it.
One of the biggest myths about emotional eating is that it’s prompted by negative feelings.
Yes, people often turn to food when they are stressed out, lonely, sad, anxious, or bored. But emotional eating can be linked to positive feelings too, like during a celebration.
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Sometimes emotional eating is tied to major life events, like death or divorce. More often, though, it’s the countless little daily stresses that cause someone to seek comfort or distraction in food.
Emotional eating patterns can be learned. For instance, a child who is given candy after a big achievement may grow up using it as a reward for a job well done.
A child who is given cookies to stop crying may learn to link the snack with comfort.
It’s not easy to ‘unlearn’ patterns of emotional eating. But it is possible. And it starts with an awareness of what’s going on.
How can you control it?
• First, do a reality check and understand the difference between real hunger and emotional cravings. Learning to become more mindful in these moments can help you break that pattern of automatic reactivity.
• Uncover your true emotions and get professional help to fully deal with anything that is causing you ill feelings like pain, sadness or anger.
• Switch to more healthfy meals as part of your daily eating and also to satisfy your cravings.
• Don’t skip meals or let yourself get extremely hungry.
• Ask yourself if you are bored or stressed. If you are, find ways of de-stressing or beating boredom without involving food, like exercise or unwind through music and nature walks.
• Always keep your hands, stomach and mouth busy by drinking and enjoying no calorie beverages like water or iced or hot tea.