First off, what exactly is emotional eating?
Emotional Eating is defined as consuming large quantities of food in response to feelings instead of hunger or overeating in order to relieve negative emotions. Or as I like to call it, the act of eating one’s feelings.
I know in my experience I used food to cope with every emotion that I could, or should I say avoid every emotion that I could. It didn’t matter what came up, I stuffed myself with food in an attempt to feel nothing but the pain in my stomach from overeating.
In short, I was afraid of feeling the dark emotions, so I didn’t let myself feel the good either. It was a difficult road to allow myself to feel again. And like most things, it got worse before it got better. But such is healing.
You may have heard me talk about emotional eating before and you weren’t quite sure where you stood on the subject. I think many people do use food to comfort to some degree and it's more of a spectrum than black-or-white thinking. I think emotional eating has become common and socially acceptable, in one regard, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. And many of us don’t fully realize the extent to which our emotions can impact our eating habits.
Here are 5 signs that you may be an Emotional Eater.
1. You have a deep need to eat very specific foods.
Often times the desire to comfort an emotion with food is linked to a very specific food or type of food that provides you with the comfort that you seek. I think we can all relate to that image of being halfway through a tub of ice cream after a break-up. Think about foods you crave regularly, is there an emotional pattern to them?
“Specific cravings are often linked to experiences of those foods in our past. People who were offered ice cream as a distraction when upset, or have positive associations of ice cream in the past, are more likely to crave it in the here and now.” – Jen Bateman
2. You eat when you’re not physically hungry and have no control around food.
That maybe after just eating a meal and you continue to eat long after you could have stopped. Your drive to eat may feel as if it’s taken on a life of its own and you may even go out of your way to just to get food even though you’re not physically hungry. If you feel like you never get full it may be a sign that you don’t feel fulfilled in your life and that you are using food as a placeholder. You may also be feeling disconnected from your body and unaware of what your hunger and fullness cues actually are since you’ve been overriding them for so long. In that case, check out my blog on How to Follow Your Hunger Cues.
3. You feel guilty about eating
Even if you don’t know what triggered you to emotionally eat, your brain and body are aware of what happened. If you feel guilty or ashamed after you’ve eaten a meal, it’s a red flag that you’re eating emotionally. I suggest you check out my blog on 5 Proven Methods to End Food Guilt.
4. You eat in response to your emotions and seek solace in food.
If you were just triggered emotionally (you don’t even need to understand it) and you immediately seek out food, you’re avoiding feeling the emotion present. For many, this reaction has become so embedded in the subconscious that it becomes an automatic response whenever you experience an emotion. Food provides you comfort at that moment. Awareness is the first step to changing this pattern. I suggest starting to get curious about what is happening in your body and asking yourself what emotion you are experiencing. Click here to download a feelings wheel to help you better understand which emotion may be present.
5. You eat quickly.
Emotional eating often happens quite fast because it’s uncomfortable for us to address our emotions present so we seek food and we seek it quickly as a comforting distraction. Slowing down your meal and becoming present forces you to witness what is actually going on. I am a huge fan of practicing Mindful Eating because it allows us to create awareness and slow down how quickly we are eating. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full, which is why slowing down is so helpful! Click here to download the 3-2-1 of Mindful Eating Guide.
Try this simple exercise before you eat: Stop. Breathe. Ask – Why am I eating? Why this food? Is this what I truly need right now?
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