When we are feeling fed up or stressed, it’s tempting to reach for a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps. When feeling unhappy or sad, it is so easy to turn to food make ourselves feel better. Comfort eating like this, is par for the course for so many.
Comfort eating from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate a joyous occasion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your main coping mechanism for managing difficult emotions, you get caught up in an unhealthy cycle where food is used to mask difficult emotions and the real problem is never addressed.
This is known as “emotional eating”. The trouble is, emotional hunger cannot ever be fully satisfied with food. It may make you feel better in the short term but the emotions that triggered the impulse to eat are still there. To make matters worse, not only are the original emotions still there, but you may also feel guilty for overeating and beat yourself for not having more willpower.
We may eat for many different reasons and the origins of emotional eating often go back to our childhood. Before you can break the cycle of emotional eating, you first need to recognise the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
Emotional eating is characterised by:
- An instant overwhelming urge to eat.
- A desire for certain foods, such as fatty or sugary snacks.
- The tendency to mindlessly eat.
- A desire for more and more.
- You experience hunger as a craving.
- You feel guilt, shame or regret after.
In order to stop emotional eating, ideally you really need to address the emotions with a professional such as a counsellor. However, there are practical things you can do, such as keeping an emotional eating diary to identify patterns, looking at other ways to manage your emotions, learning to accept your feelings – even the bad ones, plus making time for exercise, relaxation and connecting with others.
Until next time, Steve.
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Steve Clifford Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist. Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.