Emotional Eating and Why it Happens

Emotional eating is something that affects women all around the world, for some it can be devastating and a common reason why a lot of women struggle with their weight. In this article, I will discuss some of the things that can cause emotional eating.

One of the biggest challenges women face when trying to make a healthy lifestyle change and lose weight is falling into the trap of emotional eating.

A lot of times food cravings are stimulated by your body’s metabolism which can be caused by emotional turmoil.

Food should be nourishment for your body, but we all know that food can also be a means of escape, comfort, celebration, and stress relief. Food isn’t just body fuel. It’s a huge part of our social and emotional world.

Hand holding Donut

There are lots of reasons why people comfort eat. If you’ve been brought up in a household where food was offered as a treat or reward, you might continue to use food as a way to self-soothe when you’re stressed out or upset. Then there’s the matter of brain science.

Common reasons for emotional eating:

  • Relationship problems
  • Work stress
  • Health problems
  • Money troubles
  • Fatigue

Not all people try to confront their emotions with food, but those who do often do it with extremes. Some women will binge or eat impulsively even if they are not hungry. When your emotions are affected it can cause nervous eating and cause you to reach for any kind of food that will give you even the slightest bit of enjoyment.

Food often serves as a distraction.

Those who are often worried or stressed during any kind of angry or stressful situation may want to use food to deal with those emotional issues.

Sugary foods seem to offer the best reward for emotional eaters.

Sugary foods can trigger the release of dopamine

Highly processed sugary food hits the reward center of your brain, triggering the release of dopamine—it feels good and you want more of it.

Over time, dopamine receptors start to down-regulate, which means you need more of the sugary stuff to get the same effect. This is the same process that happens with drugs and alcohol, so people can and do become addicted to sugar.

The reason sugar feels addicting is that it fuels the brain and sees it as a reward. This makes you keep on wanting more. If you eat sugar often it can be hard to break the habit. In fact, there have been studies that show evidence that sugar can be something that can become addictive. 1.

The occasional over-indulgence won’t do long term damage but if your weight loss efforts are being undone by emotional eating or you think you need to break the sugar habit, there are a few things you can do to get things under control.

How can you prevent emotional eating?

Keep a food and mood diary

The first step to overcoming emotional eating is to pinpoint your personal triggers. If you’ve had a slip-up and reached for a sugary snack, jot down the time of day or night, what you ate, what emotions you were feeling at the time (including whether you were actually hungry), and how you felt immediately afterward.

Hopefully, you’ll begin to notice a pattern. Even more important you will want to identify what feelings prompted you to reach for the food, i.e., what is the emotional need you’re attempting to fulfill.

This should all be done with an attitude of curiosity and self-kindness, not judgement!

Food Diary

Come up with a list of alternative

Brainstorm a list of other, healthier ways that you could meet this emotional need. The point of these activities is not to simply distract you from the thought of food but to learn more healthy ways to soothe whatever troubling emotion is causing you to want to eat.

Your list might include going for a walk, having a shower, reading, meditation, listening to some music, playing with your dog or phoning a friend.

PhenQ Banner Before and After Weight Loss

Have your list handy and the next time you’re hit with an urge to indulge, pause before reacting and go to your list instead. By doing something different, you start re-training your brain to associate these alternative activities with feeling better.

Listen to your body

Lots of people who struggle with binge eating talk about ‘zoning out’ when they overeat and any kind of emotional eating is usually done fairly mindlessly. Overcoming this disconnection between mind and body is an important step to beating the problem.

Mindfulness starts with pausing before you eat to check whether you’re hungry. Then when you do eat, bring your full attention to what you’re eating (taste, smell, textures, colors) as well as your physical and emotional state.

By being more present while you’re eating you’ll learn to recognize your body’s ‘full’ signals and also to realize the impact different foods have on your body.  Exercise, meditation, and yoga are also great ways to re-connect with your body so that your food choices are more likely to support your overall physical and emotional wellbeing.

Exercise can curb emotional eating

We know that exercise and staying active is important for your health. When it comes to emotional eating exercise may be more important than you may think. Exercising 4-5 times a week can keep your mind off food and even help you eat foods with more nutritional value. Exercise can help reduce stress and depression which can also lead to nervous eating.

Conclusion

Emotional eating is real, it affects thousands of women and many do not even know the cause, if you are struggling with emotional eating hopefully these give you a better understanding of what it is and how it may be subconsciously affecting you.

Remember, we’re not in the business of deprivation and it’s ok to have an occasional treat without beating yourself up. Keep some healthy snacks on hand to satisfy those cravings and when you do indulge, savor it and move on with your day.