Are you an emotional eater?

When looking at your nutrition habits, it’s important not just to address what you’re eating but also why you’re eating. Emotional eating, or responding to your feelings with ‘comfort food’ rather than responding to actual hunger, is an extremely common habit that can make losing weight almost impossible. The kicker is that many people don’t realise that they do it. We look at how to identify emotional eating and how you can train yourself to break the habit.

Physical hunger vs. emotional hunger

Physical hunger can be satisfied with any type of food. Once you’re full you stop eating, it usually gradually builds up but can be postponed to later, and when you eat you feel a sense of satisfaction rather than guilt. This is the kind of hunger that results in a rumbling tummy!

Emotional hunger, on the other hand, causes specific cravings (‘I feel like pizza/ice cream/chocolate’). You’ll eat more than you normally would – often to the point of feeling uncomfortably full. This sense of hunger will come on suddenly and will often leave you feeling guilty or angry with yourself after you’ve finished.

For some reason, the words ’emotional eating’ tend to conjure up images of being sad (breakup: straight for the chocolate and wine?!), however, emotional eating can be linked to emotions such as happiness, tiredness, being bored, or stressed.

How to break your emotional eating habits – learn your triggers

A good first step is to identify your triggers is to keep a food diary for one week. Every day record:

  • What you’re eating
  • The portion sizes
  • What time you’re eating
  • Where you’re eating (i.e. work, at home, on the run)
  • Why you are eating (are you really hungry? rank your appetite from 1-10;, are you eating unhealthier foods because others are doing the same in front of you?)
  • Your feelings before and after eating (tired? stressed? bored? do you feel calmer after eating?)

There may be a little bit of trial and error with this, but you may start to see patterns emerging from what you note down and even if you learn you are not an emotional eater, it can be interesting to see what your eating habits are like.

How to break your emotional eating habits – take action

Now that you know a bit more about what feelings and situations are causing you to get emotional hunger, you can use this information to help break the habit. Limit accessibility to your trigger foods – if it’s not in your fridge or your pantry, you’re not going to eat it! When you start craving your comfort foods, have a glass of water, give yourself 10 minutes, and see if you still feel like it afterwards once you’ve had time to think it over and assess whether you’re really hungry or not.

Most importantly, remember to not skip meals. If you space them out evenly through your day (Breakfast / Snack / Lunch / Snack / Dinner), you won’t end up famished which can result in binge eating. The feeling of deprivation can also be an emotional eating trigger, so it’s good to maintain the ‘everything in moderation’ approach to food.

If things don’t go quite according to plan and you trip up, don’t feel guilty – shake it off, learn from your mistake and move on. Staying positive about yourself and your nutrition will go a long way towards your weight loss and maintenance success.

Image / Flickr – Nicole Danielson

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