If you are among the millions of Americans who are having trouble managing their weight because of emotional eating, you are not alone. Experts believe that up to 75% of overeating that results in weight management problems is spawned by negative emotions. Weight issues aren’t the only problem with emotional eating. Being overweight causes other serious health issues, many of which could be easily avoided when people become aware that their dietary decisions may be in response to feelings instead of hunger.
The Roots of Emotional Eating
Experiences surrounding food are among the earliest associations that are built in a person’s psyche. Even though people don’t usually remember being nursed as an infant, this is an individual’s first experience involving comfort and food. In early childhood, memories surrounding food can take on a positive or negative feel. Often memories of family dinners evoke feelings of pleasure and happiness. On the other hand, equally memorable are the chaotic episodes that may have taken place as a controlling parent forced their child to eat everything on their plate or used food as reward or punishment.
Upon entering adolescence, people can develop eating disorders which are largely due to an emotional imbalance. Behavior such as exercising compulsively, binging and purging often spring from an unhealthy relationship with food and, in turn, can cause sustained bad eating habits in adult life.
How to Overcome Emotional Eating
Knowing how emotional eating affects you and becoming aware of its foundation is the first step in managing the psychological aspect of eating. Here are some considerations when dealing with this common struggle:
• Check in with yourself. The next time you feel hungry, ask yourself if you are really physically hungry. One sign that your hunger is purely emotional is when not just any food will do. When you are responding emotionally, hunger manifests itself in the form of cravings for fatty, sweet or salty food. If you are truly hungry, fruit or veggies will satisfy you.
• Record your feelings. Using a journal or notepad, record all of your feelings before and after you eat. Doing this for about a week will put you more in touch with your emotions as well as allowing you a way to see behavioral patterns that you may not have noticed before.
• Distract yourself. When you find yourself craving a particular food, find something else to do for about twenty minutes. Go for a walk, play with your pet, or call a friend. As well as creating a diversion from your craving this will also enable you to realize that you have a choice over what and when you eat. Your self confidence will grow as you gain a sense of control over your life.
Many people find themselves in an emotional trap that causes them to give in to unhealthy cravings which are often of the high fat, sweet or salty variety. Instead of feeding their physical body they are somehow relieving an emotional need. In addition to the physiology of weight loss, the psychological factors must be addressed when attempting to lose weight. Sadness, anger, frustration, stress and many other emotional components can affect when, what and how much we eat. Becoming aware of emotional eating is crucial to learning how to choose not to overeat in order to fill emotional voids such as depression, anxiety or other negative emotions.