Do you often find yourself heading for the fridge when stressed? Is bingeing tasty junk food your mood lifter? Do you crave a bar of chocolate after having a tough day at work? You are not alone. Emotional ups and downs have been associated with a change in eating patterns in many people. Food consumed under emotional duress is usually unhealthy and damaging to health. So how to counter it? Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Read ahead and find out what exactly is emotional eating, what are its triggers, and how to counter it.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating refers to behavioural patterns of indulging in unhealthy food consumption to cope with a host of emotions such as stress, anger, anxiety, and boredom.
Signs of emotional eating
- You eat more when you are under stress.
- You eat even when you’re not hungry.
- Eating your comfort foods, when anxious, angry, sad, or bored makes you feel much better.
- You celebrate your big and small achievements with food.
- Overeating is a ritual for you
- Food makes you feel comfortable and happy.
- You feel powerless around food.
When does it become a problem?
Since food is such an essential aspect of our lives, it is normal to sometimes turn to it when you feel stressed and emotional or when you want to celebrate. However, if emotional eating starts becoming a coping mechanism with no alternatives, it can be a problem. You can find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and emotional overeating if this dependency on food increases too much.
Along with negative emotions such as stress, anger, and mental discomfort, various other emotions can trigger emotional eating :
Boredom is one such feeling when one tends to engage in mindless eating just to do something.
Similarly one may eat because they have achieved something. This celebration of achievement by indulging one’s food carvings can be traced back to childhood habits and the tendency to reward children with junk food items, otherwise prohibited.
Fatigue can become another trigger as food provides energy and replenishes the tired body. This is especially true for junk food as it provides instant gratification and satisfaction. However, that feeling does not last long, and eating junk food makes you hungry for more.
Social pressures may also trigger an emotional eating response from some. Sometimes we tend to overeat when in good company. At times, Emotional eating can also be a coping mechanism to counter the nervousness of being outside your comfort zone by seeking comfort in food.
Although these are some of the common triggers, given the subjectivity of the matter you need to identify what leads you to seek food to cope with your emotions.
How to counter emotional eating?
MINDFUL EATING magic: Understand your food before you eat it. Instead of diving right in, feel and sense the food via appearance, smells, flavours, textures, and sounds. Do not eat food in front of the tv or while reading a book. Think about what you’re eating. This method of eating improves your relationship with food and makes you more patient in your approach to food.
EMOTION AND FOOD JOURNAL:
Try making lists. It works every time! Note down your emotional triggers and eating pattern changes. Each time you catch yourself craving your comfort foods or mindlessly munching, find out the cause behind it, what foods you craved, how your mood changed before and after eating, etc. Mapping out your emotional reactions to each stage of emotional eating can help you understand and chart out goals to slowly eradicate this habit from your life.
NEW COPING MECHANISMS for the new you: This might be an overarching goal in the short term, however, it is not impossible. Now that you have identified your triggers it is important to usher in lifestyle changes to remove the need for food as a coping mechanism. This can be done by setting small achievable targets. For example, Take up a hobby that calms you down such as meditating or painting, and practise it whenever you need to relieve stress. If you are bored, try to fill up your time by learning new things.
EXERCISE is key:
Moving your body is an amazing way to reduce and relieve stress. Exercise helps to reduce levels of stress hormones coupled with endorphin release which gives your mood a boost.
MEDITATION: This is a great way to gain control over your mind. It makes you aware of your body and mind in a way that gives you the power to keep your emotions under control. It helps to keep negative emotions at bay. A strong mind is key to achieving control over your dietary decisions.
FREQUENT MEALS: Keep yourself nourished with nutrient-dense food so that you do not feel hungry easily. Eat frequent small meals and reduce cravings which happen especially during the later hours of the day if you do not keep yourself full.
In case you find it difficult to accommodate these changes in your life, consult a qualified practitioner who can support you in formulating achievable targets. Talking to others helps! Often we tend to put excessive pressure on ourselves to achieve long-term goals in short durations. We feel disappointed at the slow progress. However, This defeats the purpose of the entire exercise. Small lifestyle changes can help in achieving big goals. Start small and aim big.